As the Oak Park and River Forest baseball team gears up for the playoffs as the top seed in the Fenwick Sectional, there is one piece of wisdom their coach hopes to impart.
"You have to understand how quickly it can end," Chris Ledbetter said this week. "With the single-elimination format, a top team can get bounced out just like that. We had a case a couple years ago where a top-ranked Downers team got beat by St. Joe's, which won something like five games all year."
That being said, Ledbetter will make a mild roll of the dice by starting Joe Froelich, his No. 3 pitcher, in today's OPRF regional semifinal against either Austin or Kelvyn Park, saving aces Tim Dennehy and Ian Berger for more competitive opponents.
But considering Froelich contained Lyons Township in OPRF's 6-5 West Suburban Silver-clinching win over the Lions on May 17, it may not be that risky of a gamble.
"We were hoping Froelich could allow us to hang around so we could chip away at [LT starter Dan] Weston, and he did just that," Ledbetter said.
The win over LT gave the Huskies and Lions matching 15-3 records in the conference, but OPRF won the title since it won two-of-three in the season series. Fortunately for the Huskies, Lyons was placed in a different sectional, so the earliest the two teams could meet again would be in the State quarterfinals on June 10.
Assuming OPRF (26-7) gets past its semifinal opponent at home today, on Saturday it will send Dennehy to the mound against either Gordon Tech, the No. 8 seed in the Fenwick sectional, or 10-seeded Prosser, who play tomorrow.
"We'll see Gordon Tech," Ledbetter said. "They have a team that has racked up probably 15 losses or more, but they've played some good teams. They hung in against Fenwick and a good St. Rita team, and I'm sure we'll see their No. 1 pitcher."
The Huskies' pitching rotation would be lined up perfectly if they advance to the sectional. Ledbetter said Berger would pitch the sectional semifinal on June 1 with Dennehy back on six days' rest for the sectional final on June 4. OPRF's likely sectional opponents are Catholic Leaguers St. Ignatius and Fenwick. Fourth-seeded Ignatius is hosting its regional and would play OPRF in the semifinal, while the third-seeded Friars, who were blanked by the Huskies 7-0 on Monday at UIC, could be there for the final.
Berger earned his eighth straight victory in the win over Fenwick. The senior tossed a one-hit shutout.
Ledbetter cautioned against looking too far ahead.
"At this point, we need to worry about ourselves," he said. "Worrying about who you're going to face and how good the other teams are will come back to bite you. Fortunately, my teams have understood that."