By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team is always fun to watch. The Huskies offer fans a star pitcher (Chardonnay Harris), an explosive lineup led by Maeve Nelson (.511 batting average, 4 HR, 23 RBIs) and Fiona Girardot (.627, 2 HR, 25 RBIs) and a high-caliber head coach (Mel Kolbusz). The Class 4A defending state champs have also won 43 games in a row, including last season's 27-game streak to close out a historic season.
"We are picking up right where we left off," Girardot said. "Everyone is paying attention to the details of the game and maintaining our one-pitch focus. Our team chemistry has been a huge part of our success this season."
The Huskies' entertainment value was quelled a bit through no fault of their own Saturday at home against Andrew. Inclement weather proved to be the toughest opponent for OPRF as rainy, gray and cold conditions defined the day.
Nevertheless, OPRF still put on its predictably good show with an 8-2 win against the Thunderbolts in a non-conference game.
The senior battery of pitcher Emily Cekander and catcher Mariah Scott led the way for the Huskies (16-0, 5-0 West Suburban Silver).
Cekander (8-0) allowed two runs and scattered seven hits with no walks to pick up the win.
"Emily has really stepped up and given us numerous solid performances," Girardot said. "We have been pitching great and getting timely hits which have been the keys to our success."
Scott went 3-for-3 and drove in four runs against Andrew. Other top contributors offensively included right fielder Sydney Babbington (3-for-4, 2 runs), Girardot (2-for-4, 2 runs) and left fielder Olivia Glass (2 RBIs, triple).
In the second inning, sophomore center fielder Nelllie Kamenitsa-Hale hit an infield single to give OPRF a 1-0 lead. The speedy slap hitter from the left side is reminiscent of last year's standout center fielder Samantha Linde.
The Huskies extended the lead to 3-0 in the third when Glass hit a triple to bring home Scott and Harris, who both reached base via singles.
The Thunderbolts got back into the game briefly with two runs in the fourth. Sophomore Maggie Bailey drove a ball to deep center for a two-RBI single. With runners on second and third and two outs, Cekander worked her way out of trouble by inducing Hailey Dobson to pop out in the infield and keep the lead at 3-2.
OPRF responded to the Thunderbolts' mid-game rally with two runs, extending the lead to 5-2 after four innings. Nelson, a Northwestern commit, had an RBI single, as did Scott.
Amid increasingly rainy and cold conditions, the Huskies tacked on three runs in the sixth to secure an 8-2 victory. The second game of the doubleheader was called off due to the weather.
In other games last week, OPRF dominated its opponents with victories against Downers Grove North [10-1], Hinsdale Central [10-1] and Downers Grove South [7-0].
Harris was particularly spectacular as a combination pitcher/hitter. In her two wins in the pitcher's circle, the Auburn-bound Harris allowed one earned run and three hits with two walks and 24 strikeouts. At the plate, she belted a grand slam against Downers Grove North.
Harris (7-0) has a 0.15 earned run average, pitching 45.2 innings and allowing one earned run and 10 hits with seven walks and 83 strikeouts. She's also hitting .523 with four home runs and 21 RBIs.
"Chardonnay is the best pitcher in the state and one of the top pitchers nationally," Girardot said. "We all have a tremendous amount of faith in her."
First baseman Allison Smart, Kamenitsa-Hale, Babbington and Girardot added two hits apiece against Downers Grove North.
Senior third baseman Katie O'Shea, Kamenitsa-Hale and Babbington knocked in two runs each against Hinsdale Central. Cekander earned the win, allowing just two hits in five innings.
Another welcome addition to the varsity roster has been junior Annie Deamer-Nagle. She had two hits and scored once in the Downers Grove South game. Deamer, who can play multiple positions, is often used as a courtesy runner for the Huskies' catcher Scott.
The remaining varsity players are Megan Krikau, Paige Ross, Abra Kaplan and Taylor Divello.
Divello is a promising pitcher. She appears poised to take on an increased role next season after Harris and Cekander graduate this spring.
OPRF hosts Lyons Township on Wednesday, May 3. Then the Huskies hit the road to take on Glenbard West on Friday, May 5. Both games start at 4:30 p.m.
Focused on rest of season, playoffs
With the playoffs about three weeks away, the Huskies are positioned for another run at a state championship. In 16 games, OPRF has outscored its opponents 191-28.
"I think that right now, our team is doing everything right. We are passing the bat down the lineup like I have never seen a Huskie team do before," Nelson said. "Even though we do not get the opportunity to play defense too often because Emily and Chardy have been pitching so well. When the opportunity presents itself, our defense proves itself, too. We have been making all the plays we are supposed to and all the hard plays too.
While winning another state title is the goal this season, the 4A state champs are focused more on process over results for now.
"Winning state last year doesn't take away from how we approach each game this year," Babbington said. "We don't take any team for granted. There is always room for improvement and we are constantly striving to be better. I think the team is playing very well overall due to our diligence, focus and trust in one another on the field."
Scott added: "We know everyone is out to beat us. In the previous years we wanted to become the champs and now we must defend the title with every game we play. We might practice like its business as usual, but when we play its 'serious business.'"