Providence's Dylan Rosa reacts after the Celtics get the final out of a one-run victory over Prairie Ridge. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Providence coach Mark Smith knew he had something “special” the first time he saw Dylan Rosa — then in eighth grade — play at a Celtics summer camp.
“I’m like, ‘Where did this show up from?’ ” Smith recalled. “We’ve got a player on our hands. This kid’s special.”
If only Smith knew how special.
No one player is responsible for a team winning a state championship. However, without the clutch hitting of Rosa during a magical postseason run, Providence’s story book ending likely would have been greatly altered.
“He’s a heck of a kid and he had a heck of a year,” Smith said. “What he did in the playoffs was unbelievable. Without Dylan, I’d probably of been golfing three weeks ago.”
Instead, led by Rosa’s remarkable playoff performance, Smith and the rest of the Celtics won the Class 4A state championship.
Rosa didn’t limit his heroics to the playoffs. He was a steady force throughout the season, hitting .413 with 14 doubles, two triples, 11 homers, 55 RBI and 35 runs. As the Celtics No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, he was 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 62 over 49 innings.
It was during the Celtics seven-game march to the state title, however, when the lights were brightest and the pressure at its most suffocating, when Rosa performed at a level few have ever experienced.
His two-run double against Lockport in the regional semifinals was the difference during a three-run rally and 4-2 win.
In the regional final against Brother Rice, he clubbed a homer in the top of the ninth inning to give the Celtics a 5-4 victory.
In the sectional championship vs. Lincoln-Way North, his two-run single gave the Celtics a 5-3 lead on their way to a 9-3 win.
Against Edwardsville in the supersectional, his dramatic walk-off three-run triple in the bottom of the seventh capped off a stunning three-run rally and 6-5 win.
In the Celtics’ state semifinal against Prairie Ridge, he delivered a crucial two-run single and recorded the win on the mound as the Celtics prevailed 8-7.
In front of a capacity crowd at the state championship game June 14 vs. St. Rita, he roped a solo home run in the sixth inning that broke a 1-all tie and helped Providence to a 4-1 victory.
Add it all up, along with a stellar regular season, and Rosa is the SouthtownStar 2014 Baseball Player of the Year.
“That’s awesome,” Rosa said when informed of the distinction. “I’m incredibly honored. I’ve had some good games, but never the timely hits like during the playoffs. It was unreal. But none of it would have been possible without my teammates and coaches.”
Rosa’s production wasn’t limited to his bat. He also contributed on the mound. In fact, Rosa was promoted to the varsity as a sophomore mostly to help the Celtics on the mound. When given a chance to swing the bat that season, he struggled, which forced Smith to DH for Rosa while he was pitching and playing third base.
However, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-handed hitter eventually developed into one of the Celtics most dependable sluggers.
“To see where he’s come as a hitter is unbelievable,” Smith said.
Rosa has had a speech impediment — he occasionally stutters — his entire life. He attributes his success in clutch situations partly to having deal with a stuttering problem that resulted in other kids teasing him. According to Smith, Rosa has handled his speech impediment “courageously.”
“Before high school I was made fun of a lot,” said Rosa, who will attend Kent State in the fall. “It’s something I have to work on constantly, but something I can’t really help. I’ve learned to not get angry or upset. There are worse things than stuttering.
“That’s the way I approach baseball. I don’t put pressure on myself. At the end of the day, it’s a baseball game. If I don’t get a hit, it’s not the end of the world.”