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Pitching, defense, Olesker step up as New Trier earns trip to state finals

Every New Trier baseball game and practice during the 2023 season ended with the team sharing the same one-word message of motivation:

“Joliet.” 

Before their campaign even began, the Trevians set their sights on Joliet, the site of the state finals, and on Monday, June 5, the Trevians hit their target, earning a trip to the final four by defeating Stevenson 2-0 in an IHSA Class 4A Supers-sectional at Wintrust Field in Schaumburg.

“We have so much confidence now, and we’ve been trying to preach confidence all year,” said senior Trevor Byrnes, who closed out the game on the mound for the Trevians. “(We’ve been talking about Joliet) all year and now we’re finally there. We’re going on Friday. We’re really excited and we think we have a real shot here. … We have high expectations and now we’re close to fulfilling them.” 

The Trevians celebrate around their supersectional plaque on Monday, June 5.

Byrnes entered the game in the top of the seventh inning with the tying run at the plate and no outs. But New Trier quickly changed the outlook of the inning when senior Graham Mastros doubled off Stevenson’s runner at first base after snagging a pop fly in shallow left field that seemed destined to be trouble for New Trier.

Byrnes then sealed the deal with a game-ending strikeout. 

“I was so pumped up when I saw that strikeout,” the Trevians’ right-hander said. “To have the whole team then come over to celebrate, I was super excited. That was awesome.”

New Trier’s dominant pitching once again controlled the game as three Trevians combined to shut out a high-powered Patriots’ offense that had scored 47 runs in its five playoff games.  

“We pride ourselves on our pitchers this year and they did a great job again today,” New Trier coach Mike Napoleon said. 

Junior Justin Wood delivered a strong start for New Trier, firing four and two-thirds scoreless innings. Wood allowed five hits and one walk while striking out four Stevenson batters. 

“Going in, I knew this was definitely a game that I needed to be super locked in,” Wood said. “I was preparing several days in advance mentally. For me, it’s a mental game, so I just have to be ready and locked in and focused the whole game and that’s my biggest opponent, myself.” 

Junior Justin Wood delivers a pitch en route to a pitching victory in the supersectional June 5.

New Trier’s pitching was supported throughout by a near-flawless defensive effort from the Trevians’ defense. 

In addition to turning the seventh-inning double play, Mastros also made a fantastic sliding stop on a hard-hit ball ticketed for the left-field line in the fourth. He fired to first base to steal an out.

Shortstop James Novakovic erased a one-out Stevenson double in the top of the fifth with a heads-up play to cut down the baserunner attempting to advance to third base on a ground ball.

Catcher Henry Wolfe put the exclamation point on the Trevs’ fantastic defense by throwing out a baserunner attempting to steal second base in the top of the sixth. 

“Just to see your infield and outfield just sacrificing their bodies and themselves to make insane plays just means so much to me as a pitcher,” Wood said. 

Evan Olesker led the way for New Trier’s offense, as the junior drove in both of the Trevians’ runs.

Olesker got the scoring going in the bottom of the second inning when he smacked a two-out double that just went over the left fielder’s glove. 

“I wasn’t even looking to see if he was going to catch it, I just put my head down and ran,” Olesker said. “I didn’t even know it hit off of his glove until (my teammates) told me that it did. But I just blacked out the moment I hit it.” 

Evan Olesker lines a base hit to right-center field to bring home New Trier’s second run on Monday, June 5.

New Trier added a huge insurance run in the bottom of the sixth thanks to aggressive baserunning and timely hitting. Pinch-runner Jackson McCarey stole second base and advanced to third on the errant throw. 

Olesker then lined a single the opposite way to give the New Trier a 2-0 lead. The Trevians second baseman also had a huge performance in the sectional rounds, driving in three runs Saturday, June 3, against Evanston and reaching base twice Thursday, June 1, against Glenbrook North.

Napoleon had a good feeling his hot hitting would continue.

“He was my pick to click tonight,” Napoleon said. 

While the Trevians received countless contributions from some of the team’s younger players throughout the season, New Trier’s success is still rooted in its seniors. 

“This senior group is really the story of this team,” Napoleon said. “They have kept these guys together throughout the offseason, and getting them in the weight room.”

Napoleon also mentioned the strong presence of Mastros, who he said “has been outstanding as a leader.” 

“Our guys follow him; he has that aura about him. People follow him and he does a great job with our team,” coach said.

The Trevians will next face Chicago Catholic League baseball powerhouse Brother Rice at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 9, at Duly Health & Care Field. The Crusaders defeated Lincoln-Way East, 5-4, on a walk-off single to earn their spot in the final four. 

The Trevians could not be more excited for the opportunity to fulfill their season-long dream of hoisting the state title. 

“I can’t believe it; I’m still in shock,” Wood said. “I’m just taking it all in right now. This is unreal. We worked so hard this offseason and throughout the season, it’s just amazing.”  

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