By Marty Farmer
It had been three years since the Oak Park and River Forest softball team had won a regional championship, but Saturday's dominant performance against Lane Tech in the Class 4A playoffs sure made it worth the wait.
OPRF (16-15) silenced the visiting Indians 10-0 in five innings en route to its first regional championship since 2010. The Huskies broke the game wide open against the Chicago Public League champs with a six-run third inning.
Senior first baseman Jenna Rouse's home run ignited the offensive burst. With one out, catcher Sophie Mouros and outfielder Elaine Warner produced back-to-back singles, and junior pitcher Emma Baldwin then reached on a fielder's choice to advance Warner.
Center fielder Allison Loftus kept the line moving with a two-run double, before shortstop Mariah Weinand followed with an RBI double to give OPRF a commanding 7-0 lead.
Weinand, who had already clubbed a home run to start the game, finished her monster afternoon at the plate a triple shy of the cycle.
"I just went up there and told myself to hit the ball," Weinand said. "I told myself, 'Whatever you do, just get on base, that's your job as a leadoff hitter.' In my second at bat, I didn't want to try and repeat myself (and hit another home run), I just wanted to put the ball in play and get on base."
Baldwin threw five shutout innings, giving up two hits and a walk while also recording 12 strikeouts. Weinand went 4-for-4 with two RBIs, while Mouros was 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a stolen base.
"I was just pitching my heart out," Baldwin said. "Just staying on point and focusing. (Weinand's) leadoff home run really got our offense started."
Weinand reciprocated praise for Baldwin's masterful performance in the circle.
"Emma did a great job with her composure on the mound," Weinand said. "She looked like she was in control of every at bat. I had no doubt in my mind that she was going to strike a lot of batters out."
Baldwin fanned the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth. After allowing only her second hit of the game, Baldwin induced Indians first baseman Kayla Garcia to pop out to Rouse, clinching the Huskies' victory.
"The thing with Emma is that if she feels pressure on the mound, she doesn't show it," Weinand said. "When I'm in the field behind her, I don't doubt her for a second."
Even with a comfortable lead, Baldwin made sure to stay focused the entire time.
"There's always pressure on me," Baldwin said. "I don't take any pressure off of myself when I have a lead so that [way] I'll stay focused."
The Huskies meet Trinity in the semifinals of Resurrection Sectional. York and Maine West meet in the other semifinal matchup. The victors will square off in Saturday's 11 a.m. sectional championship game.