John Knebels
Sports Columnist

You could write a book about the countless great baseball players that have graced the Catholic League with their amazing talents. Name the first five or 10 who come to mind, and prepare to offend the next five or 10 who didn’t.

This spring is about a quarter of the way finished, but debates are already raging about which players are currently making their mark to join the aforementioned elite. So in the era of being politically correct, it’s probably much wiser to select only one.

Go no further than SS. Neumann-Goretti senior Mike Zolk. {{more}}

“He’s the real deal,” said likeable fifth-year Neumann-Goretti coach Lou Spadaccini. “He really is. He’s a terrific player and an even better young man.”

Zolk obviously enjoys hearing such compliments. But throughout his star-studded career, he has developed a reputation for doing whatever is necessary for the best interests of the team.

Take, for instance, the following comparison.

On one hand, Zolk can provide intelligent play that causes problems for the opponent. In the Saints’ first league contest vs. Conwell-Egan back on April 4, Neumann-Goretti led the visitors by only 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. After teammates Josh Ockimey and John Snyder started the frame with consecutive walks, up stepped one of the league’s most prolific hitter over the past three seasons.

While the Conwell-Egan outfield smartly drifted numerous steps backward out of respect for his considerable power, Zolk stunned the Eagles by dropping a bunt down the third-base line. The startled third baseman overthrew first base, plating two runs and sending Zolk to third. Before the inning was over, the Saints had scored five runs en route to a harder-than-it-looked 9-1 victory.

“Coach trusts me in a situation like that,” said Zolk, who was bunting on his own. “When your coach trusts you as a player, it helps a lot.”

This past Monday was a more vintage Zolk.

Playing visiting Germantown Academy, one of Pennsylvania’s top teams (they came in ranked first by ESPN Rise Magazine), the Saints trailed 2-0 in the second, but in their bottom half, they scored six runs thanks mostly to a towering three-run homer over the right-field fence by Zolk that, according to embellished legend, has yet to land.

Neumann-Goretti went on to capture an 8-4 decision, making a winner out of junior pitcher Joe Gorman (nine strikeouts in five innings; he had whiffed 13 in the victory over Conwell-Egan). Meanwhile, Zolk increased his league-best batting average – perennially hovering between .550 and .650 – by ripping three hits and driving in five runs.

“There are a lot of ways to win baseball games,” Zolk said. “You can play small ball, or go with power. That’s why it’s such a great game. Add great pitching and defense and you usually end up on top.”

In what figured to be a potentially challenging season since several stars graduated last year, the Saints returned several core performers such as Zolk, Gorman, and juniors Nick Nardini and Marty Venafro.

So much for rebuilding. The Saints are currently 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Catholic League and have their sights fixed on recapturing the Catholic League title they won in 2009.

Zolk was not a member of that team. He was a fast-rising star at North Catholic, but when the esteemed institution closed in 2009, Zolk needed a new place to play.

He has yet to look back.

“It was a great decision,” said Zolk, who lives in the Far Northeast. “I love it here. I felt like I belonged from the very beginning.”

When his high school days are finished, Zolk will attend the University of North Carolina on a full scholarship. Smitten by Tar Heel land ever since he entered high school, Zolk sat down in a Neumann-Goretti conference room last Friday and among family and school personnel from both high school and college, signed on. He admitted to feeling appreciative and humble.

“I can’t wait for college,” Zolk said. “But there’s a lot left to do before that.”

Meanwhile, book that contains the names of the all-time Catholic League greats prepares to add yet another chapter.

John Knebels can be reached at