"It was an unbelievable season," said a disenchanted Chris Ledbetter after his team fell 9-6 to Mt. Carmel in the Class AA Baseball State quarterfinals at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva on Friday afternoon. "I'm obviously disappointed."
Oak Park and River Forest's head baseball coach stood in the press conference room with his head down, ruminating over a season that began with the early departure of a top player (Ruairi O'Connor left school early to play for Florida State), the serious injury of another key player (Eric Lisle suffered a severe leg injury while skiing before the season, but made it back to pinch hit in four games), and an unfortunate incident where last month an umpire died of a heart-attack during a game.
"It was an unbelievable season," Ledbetter repeated before reporters broke into the solemn moment with questions regarding OPRF's battle against Mt. Carmel, who ended up falling to Lockport 8-4 in the championship game.
The Huskies' unbelievable season came to an end with an unbelievable ballgame loaded with such memorable moments it may have rivaled that of the historical showdown between the Cubs and the Red Sox at Wrigley Field on the same day.
Tim Dennehy (7-4, 2.26 ERA), who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians June 7 in the 19th round (574th overall) and who has already signed a letter of intent to play at Texas in the fall, took the mound for the Huskies. The lefthander pitched well for three innings and helped his own cause?#34;he went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in the game?#34;as the Huskies grabbed an early 4-1 lead. In the second inning, Ryan Spierowski singled to right field to knock in Andrew Hagins, who had doubled to start the inning and had advanced to third on a groundout. The Huskies (31-6) accumulated three more runs in the third inning, all with two outs. Mt. Carmel pitcher Joe Koehler plunked two batters in a row?#34;three total in the inning?#34;before Hagins ripped a line drive up the middle to score Ian Berger. Dennehy, who as of last week was still weighing his options of either signing on with Cleveland, attending and playing for Texas or going to a junior college for a year, then smashed a two-run double over the right fielder's head to give his team a three-run lead.
The Caravan (32-8) answered in the fourth when David Cales led off the inning with a single and John Coci blasted a shot to the warning track in centerfield for a triple. Coci scored on a fielder's choice and the Huskies escaped the inning still leading 4-3.
Ty Legan doubled and Mike Cunninham, who was hit by a pitch in three of his four at bats, singled to kick off the bottom of the fourth inning for the Huskies. Matt McFolling forced a walk out of Koehler, who was replaced by Cales on the mound. Berger knocked in OPRF's fifth run with a sacrifice fly to center.
Dennehy looked spent in the fifth as Mt Carmel's Ryan Schiever led off with a double. Things got worse from there. Dennehy misplayed a routine grounder back to the mound and hurled a wild pitch over the catcher's head. The Caravan eventually tied the game at 5-5 when Coci singled up the middle. Mark Evans took the wind out of the Huskies with a two-out, two-run homer over the wall in left field.
Dennehy left the game allowing seven runs?#34;three earned?#34;on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.
"The plan was to stick to the rotation that got us here," said Ledbetter when asked about not starting OPRF's other ace, Berger (10-0, 1.06 ERA), in the first game of the tournament. "This has been our ro tation all year; the guys have been trading on and off, and that's what got us here."
Ledbetter went on to say he had planned to have Berger come in in relief later in the game if needed.
In the sixth inning, Mt. Carmel pushed the score to 8-5 on a sacrifice fly by Schiever off of Joe Froelich (2 runs, 2 hits, 2 1/3 innings). Evans racked up another RBI for the Caravan with a double in the seventh, and OPRF scored its final run when Dennehy drove in Bobby Fratto with a blooper to right.
Ledbetter insisted that Dennehy being drafted by a Major League Baseball team had nothing to do with the pitcher's rough outing.
"There was no distraction or no side show thing going on. Tim just didn't have all of his stuff today, it's as simple as that," he said.
Berger said he had no problem with Dennehy getting the nod to start the tournament.
"We've always been about being a team. It's never been about Tim or me or Matt (McFolling). It's been about us being a team," said Berger, who will play at Illinois State in the fall. "We did the best we could out there today."
Before Ledbetter and a few of the OPRF players exited the press conference room, the head coach emphasized that his earlier remarks about being disappointed were not meant for the way his team performed.
"I just wanted them to experience every bit of the State tournament. Last night we all stayed in a hotel here and I could tell they really felt like this was the pros," he said. "As a coach, you want them to experience the entire show, right up to a State title trophy."
OPRF has been to the State tournament 11 times in the school's history, twice under Ledbetter, who coached the Huskies to second place in 2001.