Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 10 St. Rita


By Diego Solares
Illinois Staff

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on April 12, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next several weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2021 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, leading into a countdown through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2021 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: St. Rita
Preseason Rank: No. 10
2019 Record: 35-7
Conference: Chicago Catholic League - Blue
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: John Nee

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Bobby Atkinson 1B/LHP 2021 Heartland CC
Brandon Buday LHP 2021 -
Al Holguin 1B/LHP 2021 USC-Upstate
Liam McKillop RHP 2021 Lake Land JC
Brandon Norred INF 2021 -
Tony Rath INF 2021 Mary Hardin-Baylor
Steve Sanderson OF 2021  -
Parker Baryl LHP 2022 -
James Cholke 1B 2022 -
Will Moonan RHP 2022 -
Matt Rodarte C 2022 -
Tommy Ulatowski OF 2022  Creighton
Omar Alday Jr. INF 2023 -
Tommy Atkinson INF 2023 -
Sir Jamison Jones C 2023 -
Victor Zaragoza C 2023 -

STAT RAT 

23 - The years that head coach John Nee has been a part of this St. Rita baseball program and worked his way to multiple state finals appearances; three runner-up appearances as an assistant and one third-place finish as a head coach.  

NEWCOMER TO WATCH 

Sophomore infielder Tommy Atkinson is expected to step in and contribute immediately for the Mustangs in his first full season at the varsity level. Atkinson projects to hit somewhere towards the top of this lineup, where his knack for consistently making contact is going to greatly benefit St. Rita’s offense. He’ll slot right in as their starting second baseman and provide the Mustangs with a quality up the middle glove at a key position. 

Tommy Atkinson (7/21/20)

X-FACTOR 

Committed to USC-Upstate, senior 1B/LHP Al Holguin is going to be a huge piece to this St. Rita squad in his final season with the Mustangs. Currently ranked as a top-50 player in the state, Holguin boasts a physical 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame and some of the most valuable varsity experience on the roster. Holguin was one of the top arms on the 2019 team that finished third in state. He’s once again projected to be a top arm and is currently slated to hit cleanup for the Mustangs, where his loud left-handed stroke will be called upon all spring to serve as the go-to source of offense for this club. Holguin’s two-way value to this club is one of the key factors heading into 2021.

Al Holguin (9/5/20)

OUTLOOK 

On a year-to-year basis, you’ll be hard pressed to find many programs as consistent as St. Rita across the state’s 4A classification. The Mustangs are consistently fighting for the CCL Blue conference title and they’ve made multiple appearances in the state tournament over the years, finishing in third place as recently as 2019. The Mustangs have won 20+ games every year since the 2001 season with 11 seasons of 30+ wins over that span.

This year is no different for St. Rita as the Mustangs are equipped with a talented, yet inexperienced, squad looking to build off the previous success of their predecessors and continue the winning pedigree that comes with playing for this program. 

The biggest strength for this Mustangs’ team is the amount of pitching depth they bring to the table. The aforementioned Holguin is going to anchor this staff, but there are several quality senior arms that’ll follow him in this rotation. Committed to Division-III powerhouse Washington University (MO), senior LHP Brandon Buday is set to follow Holguin as the number two starter on this pitching staff and he’ll also slot into the leadoff spot for their offense while starting in center field when he’s not on the rubber. Two senior right-handers, Liam McKillop (Lake Land JC) and RHP Brandon Norred round out an experienced quartet of competitive arms that St. Rita will trot out to win them baseball games. Norred, like Buday, will also play the field as he’s penciled in to man the hot corner when he’s not pitching. 

Following that group is a quality trio of bullpen arms that’ll look to shut the door on opponents throughout the spring. Senior 1B Bobby Atkinson (Heartland CC) is going to be a major contributor to the Mustangs’ offensive attack as one of the team’s best hitters, but he’ll also be handling some innings in relief for this team throughout the season. Junior RHP Will Moonan is a lanky 6-foot-4, 175-pound athlete that we saw up to 83 mph at an event last July and is another arm that this team can deploy out of the pen. Finally, junior LHP Parker Baryl is yet another competitive, strike-throwing arm working in relief for St. Rita, completing a pitching staff that looks to be a strength for this club. 

Bobby Atkinson (8/11/20)

As deep as their pitching staff might be, the Mustangs’ offense looks as potent as ever, especially at the top. Several key pieces to their offensive attack have been highlighted above, but two key names remain, both members of the 2022 class: C Matt Rodarte (uncommitted) and OF Tommy Ulatowski (Creighton). Rodarte is a physical, broad-shouldered 6-foot-1, 215-pound backstop with an impactful right-handed stroke that is projected to slot right into the heart of this lineup. Ulatowski recently committed to Creighton is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound, athletic, strong right-handed hitting outfielder with a knack for hard contact. 

Rounding out the rest of this offense are a couple more names we’ve become more familiar with over the last calendar year. Outfielder Steve Sanderson is one of the top-ranked seniors still uncommitted in the state’s 2021 class and he’s projected to patrol the outfield on an everyday basis for this team. Starting at shortstop for the Mustangs is senior Tony Rath (Mary Hardin-Baylor), who’s also ranked inside the state’s senior class and he’ll provide an experienced staple at the infield’s most valuable defensive position for this club. It’s an impressive lineup from top to bottom without many holes that should compete against the multitude of talented arms they’ll see throughout the season. 

BOTTOM LINE 

As we mentioned earlier, St. Rita is perennially one of the state’s top baseball programs and nothing looks to be different for coach Nee’s squad in 2021. While they don’t have the experience that they might’ve had in the past, this year’s Mustangs are well-balanced with an all-around solid roster that’ll be well coached and battle tested come the IHSA playoffs. 

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2021 season.

Find more information on the 2021 Mustangs below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN