Winnetka, Sports

A regional championship, 30th straight win and 1,000th coaching victory: Saturday was a special day for New Trier baseball

It’s only fitting that the last game of Mike Napoleon’s illustrious coaching career at Duke Childs Field ended in thrilling fashion.

New Trier baseball entered the top of the seventh inning of the regional championship against Niles West with what appeared to be a commanding 3-0 lead. The Trevians ace pitcher Max Kaplan dominated the Wolves all afternoon, holding them to no hits through the first six frames while allowing just two baserunners. 

Yet, West refused to go down without a fight. The Wolves scored twice and loaded the bases in a threat to take the lead. But senior pitcher Pedro Hernandez made sure that was as far as the Wolves would go. 

After walking the first batter he faced, Hernandez induced a weak popup that senior catcher Max Miller caught behind home plate to preserve a 3-2 victory for New Trier, giving the Trevs their 30th straight victory, their third regional championship in the last four seasons and the 1,000th career victory for the program’s legendary head coach. 

“We were going to win; we were always going to win. The belief was always there. We just made it a little bit interesting,” New Trier senior Sam Nigro said. 

Trevians seniors carry the regional trophy after their victory on Saturday.

New Trier jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the Wolves in the bottom of the second. After junior Ben Toft singled and Miller walked, Nigro had the Trevs’ biggest hit of the day, knocking a hard-hit line drive into left field to plate two both runners.

It seemed those runs would be all New Trier needed as the Trevians stud left-hander Kaplan was in fine form. Kaplan hit Niles West’s leadoff batter but then retired nine straight. A Wolves batter reached via error in the fourth, but Kaplan proceeded to again sit down nine straight.

Kaplan finished the afternoon with 9 strikeouts over his 6 2/3 innings pitch, allowing just two hits while walking only one, all in the top of the seventh. 

“He’s our guy and everybody knows it,” Napoleon said of Kaplan. “He’s the pitcher of the year in the conference and he’s got more big games ahead of him.” 

Kaplan credited his success on the mound Saturday to “being crafty” during his start, adding that he had a great warmup and long-toss session prior to first pitch. 

“Throughout the game, besides the seventh, really all my pitches were working,” Kaplan said. 

The Trevs added their third run, a tally that proved to be vital, in the bottom of the fourth when Toft scored on a wild pitch.

Naps earns 1,000th career win

New Trier coach Mike Napoleon (laying down) with his players and a banner marking his 1,000th victory.

Arguably the greatest coaching resume in Illinois high school baseball history just keeps getting better. 

In addition to being the state’s all-time winningest head coach, Napoleon is now also the only manager in Illinois history to win 1,000 games. 

Napoleon told The Record after the hallmark victory that the 1,000-win mark is a testament to his longevity as a coach, joking that he’s “a dinosaur when it comes to sticking around the game.”

But he also noted it’s a number that represents the talented players he’s coached and the unwavering support of his family. 

“I’ve had a very good wife (Melanie) for 41 years who understands that this is my passion and she’s been very supportive throughout my life and my career,” he said. “… And I’ve had two boys (Dusty and Dillon) who got into what I was doing and are both coaches now.

“One thousand wins means a lot of kids that (played at New Trier) were very good. Hopefully they also developed into good young men, and I think they have. It’s a lot of great baseball families that love baseball and that have supported me as well.” 

Napoleon is the first to admit that he never imagined the number now a part of his career coaching was ever possible. But the idea of 1,000 wins became a little more practical last season after the Trevians’ memorable run to the state tournament boosted Napoleon’s win total. 

“Then the hunt was on,” Napoleon said. “I wanted to stay. We were 33 wins away (heading into this season) from getting this number and when you start the season you don’t think you’re going to get 33 wins.”

Following the game’s final out, Trevians players gathered around home plate to hug and congratulate Napoleon on the milestone achievement. Past and present members of the program as well as parents, community members and Napoleon’s family all convened on the recently renovated Duke Childs Field. Many adorned with hats and T-shirts commemorating the milestone. 

“It’s been amazing playing for him,” Nigro said. “It’s different than a lot of other high schools here. We spend all year with Naps— summer, winter, fall — so we really build a connection with him and he loves us and he has each and every one of our backs. 

“He’s made me mentally tougher. It’s not easy to play for coach but it’s really rewarding and he makes you a better player both mentally and physically. He teaches you about the game. It’s been really special playing for him.”

Kaplan told The Record that “it’s been an honor” to play for Napoleon — and being the game’s starting pitcher is something he’ll never forget. 

“He’s really the GOAT (greatest of all time),” Kaplan said. “Last year when he got the record, I wasn’t on the scorecard, I wasn’t scheduled to pitch that day, but I am so honored to be on the scorecard today and get the win.”

Under Napoleon, the Trevians have collected 15 Central Suburban League championships, 20 regional crowns, 10 sectional titles and six state trophies (top 4), including state championships in 2000 and 2009.

New Trier’s remarkable 2024 season is yet another impressive feat in Napoleon’s decorated coaching career. 

‘I’ve never seen anything like it:’ Trevs win streak hits 30 games

New Trier third baseman Sam Nigro winds up to throw to first after making a play in the regional championship.

The 33 wins Napoleon needed to reach 1,000 seemed like an uphill battle entering the 2024 campaign. And, the lofty total felt even more improbable after starting the year with a 3-3 record. 

The Trevians returned home from a spring break trip to Arizona with the middling early-season mark. But the program would then go on to deliver one of the most impressive recent win streaks in Illinois high school sports. 

New Trier’s regional championship win over Niles West was the team’s 30th consecutive victory, a remarkable run that also included an undefeated regular season in conference play.  

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Napoleon said. 

Trevians players and coaches are doing their best to soak in the historic streak while also staying focused on the team’s ultimate goal: hoisting the state championship trophy in Joliet. 

“It’s been an amazing season, Kaplan said. “I love this team so much. We’re saying that we’re on a mission from God this year.”

“This is a great group of guys, I know it’s a cliché, but we’ll run through a brick wall for each other and this team means the world to me and I love all these guys. It’s been a blast playing with them,” Nigro said. 

New Trier will take on its longtime rival Evanston at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, at Kerry Wood Field in Chicago as part of the Lane Tech Sectional.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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