More often than not a team that wins a championship often receives a major scare along the way, in which it snatches an improbable victory from the jaws of defeat.
If the Oak Park & River Forest softball team is able to successfully complete its quest for a state title three-peat next week in East Peoria, it may very well look back at Thursday, May 31 as the day it received its scare yet managed to survive.
Trailing 14-11 to Maine South in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 4A sectional semifinal at Niles West, OPRF managed to load the bases. Then, with two outs and the three-peat bid at stake, junior outfielder Mary Jones belted a walk-off grand slam to give the Huskies a thrilling 15-14 victory.
Jones finished 2-for with four RBIs, while Annie Deamer-Nagle (3-for-5, 3 RBIs), Maddie Grant (2-for-4, 2 RBIs), Carli Tucci (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) and Maeve Nelson (3-for-4, 3 runs scored) were other top contributors. OPRF had 18 hits for the game.
"The kids never gave up. Mary just jacked the first pitch 250 feet. It was a no-doubter," OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz said. "It's a great confidence booster. We know we can hit and score runs. We didn't play our best in terms of pitching and defense. I don't have anybody like Chardonnay (Harris) this year, but I have confidence in our pitchers. They didn't have good stuff, but our offense bailed them out."
In terms of pitching, OPRF starter Cassie Metzger and Taylor Divello went five innings, collectively, and allowed 11 runs but only two were earned. Metzger gave up three hits and struck out five in three innings and Divello allowed four hits and fanned four in two innings. Nelson, who gave up three runs, three hits and walked five in two innings, notched the victory.
Britney Richardson led Maine South with two home runs and six runs driven in. MacKenzie Tucker went 4-for-5 for the Hawks.
The Huskies won their own regional easily. OPRF shut out Jones 15-0 in its postseason opener and then defeated Lane Tech 14-2 in the regional final.
Looking ahead, second-seeed OPRF (26-5) will face top seed York Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Niles for the sectional championship. The Huskies will be seeking to gain a measure of revenge on the Dukes, who won the West Suburban Conference Silver Division this spring.
"We can hit and score runs, but we're not that good where we can walk hitters and make errors like we did against Maine South," Kolbusz said. "Their first nine runs were all unearned; we made a couple of errors that extended innings and allowed them to score those runs. We have to clean up our defense and limit our walks. If we do that, we've got a good shot."
-Marty Farmer contributed to this story