BOYS BASEBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: MATT MCCORMICK, St. Laurence
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
As he stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and the winning run on second base, Matt McCormick knew what he had to do to give St. Laurence a victory over rival Brother Rice and a Class 4A sectional title.
“I was just thinking don't try to over-swing or do too much with it,” said the sophomore catcher. “Just throw my hands at it, because all we needed was a single – or anything, really – even a slow roller up the middle.”
McCormick's single into left-center field on the second pitch of the at-bat gave the Vikings a walk-off win and ignited a wild celebration that resulted in one broken batting helmet and at least one St. Laurence teammate sustaining a bloody nose and forehead.
“That was just crazy. I don’t even know how to describe that,” he said of the excitement.
McCormick, of Orland Park, followed up those heroics with a two-run triple in a state quarterfinal victory over Neuqua Valley, and he clubbed a two-run homer to help the Vikings top New Trier in the Class 4A third-place game. For the season, he hit .456 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and 49 RBI.
Those numbers and his contributions to a team that finished among the top three in the state earned McCormick the title of The Regional/Reporter Baseball Player of the Year.
McCormick's rise from freshman phenom to sophomore sensation and top player on one of the best teams in the state weren't the result of anything fancy, just hard work and a wealth of natural talent.
McCormick transitioned this season to catcher, his natural position, after starting at third base for the Vikings as a freshman. He takes a lot of pride in his defense and managing a pitching staff.
“I think [defense] matters just as much as hitting, maybe even a little bit more,” he said. “I had to work really hard to play third, and I worked hard [last] off-season to prepare for catching. I'm always working on my defense. Even if I go in a slump I can stay in the lineup.”
SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: ANGELA ZEDAK, Marist
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Marist softball player Angela Zedak entered the 2017 season knowing she was one of the RedHawks’ best hitters, but she was also prepared to step up as a team leader and ace of the pitching staff.
That's a lot to expect from any sophomore, particularly one who pitched in just one game during her freshman season. But Zedak, of Chicago's Garfield Ridge community, is not one to shy away from a challenge, and elevate her game, she did.
Opposing teams should hope Zedak doesn't decide she needs to step up even more next year. The second-year player ravaged opposing pitching to the tune of a .500 average, .544 on-base percentage and .964 slugging percentage, while belting 12 doubles and 11 home runs, and scoring 43 runs and driving in 56. On the mound she went 19-7 with a 1.78 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 157.2 innings.
For compiling those eye-popping statistics and helping Marist to fourth-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament, Zedak is The Regional/Reporter's Softball Player of the Year.
“I thought this season was awesome,” Zedak said. “I just thought I had to step up and play the bigger role for Marist, because I know the pitchers of past years have all been very successful.”
Zedak is never short of confidence, but being thrust into the role of staff ace did make her a little nervous – at least for an inning or so.
“The thing that helped me the most was, in the (season) opener against Andrew, I was nervous about being the No. 1 pitcher, but I ended up pitching tremendously,” she recalled.
She also cracked a home run in her first at bat of the season, and hardly slowed down thereafter.
“After that game I was like, 'This is my season, this is the season I'm going to be very successful and everything's going to work well for me,'” she said.
“Basically, every pitch I see I want to hit the ball as hard as I can as far as I can, and exactly where it came from. I have an aggressive mindset in everything.’’
BOYS VOLLEYBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JOE KENZINGER, Brother Rice
Photo by Jeff Vorva
If anyone heckles Brother Rice’s Joe Kenzinger with the stale line that volleyball is a girls sport, he might not take much offense.
He once had those feelings, too.
“I could have played in fifth grade, but I thought it was a girls sport,” he said. “I didn’t think boys could play volleyball. My mom actually was my first coach and I was put on the B team in sixth grade.’’
His mother, Colleen (maiden name Ryan) was a volleyball star at Morgan Park High School and played at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and she kick-started Joe’s career and several years later, he became one of the top players in the state and was named the Regional/Reporter’s Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-6 Lewis University-bound senior middle hitter smashed down 226 kills and added 107 blocks.
Kenzinger pounded down 11 kills, notched five blocks and had a .500 hitting percentage in a heartbreaking 21-25, 25-20, 25-22 state semifinal loss to eventual three-time champion Glenbard West in the Illinois High School Association tournament. The Crusaders finished fourth in the state.
“That Glenbard game was the best I’ve ever played in,’’ he said. “Both sides were doing some really awesome things. It’s tough to see them win it all after we played them so well. But we were able to play our best game at the very end.’’
The Mt. Greenwood resident has come a long way since the B team days in sixth grade.
“I would go to as many camps as I could because I knew this was something I wanted to continue on and play the rest of my life,’’ he said. “I went to a lot college camps and the Rice camps. I went to Florida last summer for a USA Volleyball camp and got exposure to the best players in the country.’’
Crusaders coach Dan Dwyer watched him grow – literally and figuratively—the past couple of seasons.
“He became a team leader and a player who wanted the ball in tough situations,” Dwyer said. “And he pushed his teammates to become better.’’