The OPRF baseball team may have been tested a little earlier than they would have liked in the Class 4A State playoffs. Nonetheless, the Huskies took advantage of key situations on Saturday against Evanston to become regional champions, winning 2-1.
On the mound for the Wildkits was crafty right-hander Jordan Crawford, who the OPRF squad had a lot of respect for coming into the matchup. The Huskies managed to score only one run against him earlier in the season and not much would be different this time around.
"We knew we were in for a dogfight against him; he's good," said OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter. "He keeps the ball down in the zone, he doesn't walk people, and throws sneaky fast. So we knew that we had to take any opportunity we got to advance runners and would have to play a little small ball."
The Huskies batted through their order without a base runner after three innings of stellar pitching from Crawford. But leadoff batter Zachary Weigel started the fourth inning off with a single. The next at bat, catcher Jack Picchiotti, who went 2-for-3 in the game, smacked one of his two doubles through the infield, advancing Weigel to third base with no outs.
"We were just ready to go on anything. Everybody was being aggressive," commented future Boilermaker Picchiotti on the Huskies' efforts on the base paths.
Two back-to-back well placed grounders by Nick Kowalczuk and Alex Rice allowed Weigel and Picchiotti to score, giving them a 2-0 lead going into the fifth. That was the only offense they would need to advance to sectionals, thanks to starting righty Joe McKune who rose to the occasion on the mound in a tight pitching duel.
McKune threw a commanding five innings while racking up seven strikeouts, allowing zero runs off three hits. McKune faced a little adversity in the second inning after giving up a leadoff single, offering a free base by means of a balk, and walking the next hitter. However, after an early mound visit, he was able to get back on track and impressively end the inning by striking out the side.
OPRF's defense also avoided giving up a run in the following inning through a tricky first and third situational play. Evanston's runner took off for second base while Picchiotti, showing intent to make the throw across the diamond, caught the runner on third sleeping and picked him off with a beautiful toss.
The Huskies made getting out of jams a habit on Saturday, almost asserting the fact that they wouldn't let this win slip through their mitts. With junior Henry Cappell on the mound in the sixth, the defense only allowed a single run off a sacrifice fly after Evanston had runners on second and third with one out after a series of walks and a wild pitch. Cappell ended the inning by fielding a quick grounder shot right back to the mound off a Wildkit bat.
This allowed for Weigel to take control once again as he was called to the rubber to cement the victory in the seventh inning. The left-hander, who will play college ball with the Seton Hall Pirates, struck out the first two batters with ease and the final out was made on a slow grounder hit directly to the first baseman.
"I was working off adrenaline," he said. "I went out there and just started throwing since I knew they would take every pitch until they got a strike. So I just focused on putting it over the plate and got it done."
Weigel will be the starter for the Huskies in their next matchup against a formidable New Trier squad who defeated the Huskies near the end of the regular season. In order to win, assistant coach Larry Gray said,"Everybody has to be at the top of our game in every department, but I'm confident that we can be."
The Huskies began the regional by pasting Schurz 13-0. Mike Brennan and Joe Rumoro combined to toss a one-hitter, while Picchiotti went 2-for-3 — a double and a triple — with three RBIs.
OPRF will take on the New Trier Trevians on Thursday night in Evanston (4:30 p.m.).