By Marty Farmer
With all due respect to top-seeded York, the Trinity Sectional takes on a decidedly local softball flavor with Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick high schools and the host Blazers rounding out the top four in the sectional bracket.
Although OPRF closed the regular season with a 5-2 loss to visiting Glenbard West last week, the Huskies (23-9, 9-3 West Suburban Silver) are a talented team and arguably the favorite to win the sectional. OPRF edged York 6-5 (May 21) as sophomore outfielder Sam Linde drove in the game-winning run and highly touted freshman pitcher Chardonnay Harris threw three innings to pick up the win. The Dukes beat the Huskies 4-3 in their earlier meeting this season. Downers Grove North won the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship with OPRF finishing second.
"We had some tough losses, but I think overall the season went great for us," Linde said. "We're very confident about the playoffs. If we keep our energy up, I think we'll be unstoppable."
While OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz loves his team's talent, he said more consistency is required for a deep run in the playoffs.
"We were a bit inconsistent during the regular season," Kolbusz said. "We have tons of potential, but at times we don't play up to that level. Hopefully, we'll pick it up in the playoffs."
Kolbusz is optimistic that junior star Taylor Arends will be back in the lineup for the playoffs. Missing over half the season due to a high ankle sprain, the Huskies' best bat was hitting .560 before her injury. The potential return of Arends, coupled with excellent hitters like Libby Foster, Sophie Mouros, Emily Richardson and Linde, could produce a dynamic offense for the playoffs. More importantly, the Huskies' pitching seems well in order with senior ace Emma Baldwin at the top, and Richardson, Harris and Nina Steele all at the ready.
"Emma is fantastic," Steele said. "I think this has been her best season and we're so confident when she's pitching. As a team, we have done a good job of picking each other up when somebody is down."
Fenwick (15-16), which advanced to a supersectional last spring, is another club loaded with talented players. Ace pitcher Valerie Perrelli and James Madison-bound Jess Mrozek anchor coach Mike Marrese's rotation. Offensively, the Cairo sisters, Jenna (committed to Lewis University) and Natalie, along with Ashley Parenti, Michelle Lang, Giselle Diaz, Perrelli and Mrozek, provide plenty of punch. Plus the Friars (who defeated OPRF 4-1 this season) are far better than their record indicates, considering they play in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference, which features state championship contenders like Marist and Benet and solid squads like Bishop MacNamara, Benet and Providence.
"We play in one of the toughest conferences in the state," Marrese said. "There are no easy conference games. Hopefully, we can get hot and play our best softball in the playoffs like last season. I love our team chemistry and spirit."
Trinity is led by senior slugger Carrie Shere, who has committed to Eckerd College, along with junior Carrie Reilly and promising sophomore shortstop Anyssa Iliopoulos. The Blazers have won 10 straight regional titles and took second in the state in 2010 in the Class 3A playoffs.
The Huskies, Friars and Blazers all enter the playoffs well-stocked with tradition and talent.
"If everything holds form, we will win our regional and advance to the sectional," Kolbusz said. "In the sectional semifinals, we'll probably face Fenwick which has three or four really good players. We'll need to be at our best to beat them."
With an opening round win in the playoffs, OPRF, Fenwick and Trinity will each play in a regional championship game on Saturday, May 31 (11 a.m.) The Huskies and Friars are hosting a regional, while the Blazers are competing in the Niles West Regional.