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UPDATE: OPRF baseball defeated Maine South 10-8 on Saturday to win the Evanston Sectional title. The Huskies now advance to the Rockford 1 Supersectional to play Highland Park on Monday (4:30 p.m.) at RiverHawks Stadium in Rockford.
The OPRF baseball team forced themselves into a hole early on Friday afternoon against New Trier by making error after error and putting runners on base by not throwing strikes. However, the Huskies never counted themselves out and a team effort at the plate sparked some late-inning magic that led to an 8-7 win over the Trevians and advancement to the Class 4A Evanston Sectional Championship to be held today against Maine South.
By the end of the third inning, the Huskies found themselves down 7-0 after a four-run first inning in which New Trier batted through its order, while only getting two hits in the process. In the second inning, Zachary Weigel, who started on the mound for OPRF, began to gain some momentum and retired the first two batters with ease. But another error by his infield put at man on with two outs. Chris Hall then belted a towering homer over Evanston's tall left field wall.
"It's frustrating how we got to the position of going down," said head coach Chris Ledbetter of his team's defensive efforts early on, "it was uncharacteristic of some of our guys to be a little uptight. They let their emotions get the best of them, and that's a little frustrating and hopefully they learn from that."
After 2 and 2/3 innings, Joe McKune took the mound for the Huskies. McKune picked up right where he left off against Evanston, keeping the Huskies in the game by throwing four shutout innings, only giving up one hit for the remainder of the game. He also contributed at the plate with an RBI single in the seventh inning, putting his team within one run.
"I wasn't trying to do too much," he said, "just trying to pick up Zach and throw strikes. I actually didn't even know I was going to bat, then I got put in and the adrenaline was really going at that point," said McKune. "It was crazy, everyone was up, our emotions took over, and we were able to get the win."
The Huskies started their improbable comeback in the fifth inning when they were able to load the bases with one out and the top of their order at the plate. Weigel finally put OPRF on the board with a sacrifice fly, which prompted a timely plate appearance by slugger Jack Picchiotti. The catcher rose to the occasion and smacked a line drive home run over the right-field fence, shortening the gap to three runs.
"That got everybody pumped up," said Picchiotti, who went 2-for-4 in the game. "It really put our rally together."
OPRF wasn't done at the plate after that. A single by junior Nick Kowalczuk brought sophomore clean-up batter Alex Rice to the plate. Rice promptly drove in the fifth and final run of the inning with a triple.
After McKune finished up his commanding performance on the mound in the top of the seventh, left fielder Matt McCormack started the bottom of the inning with a single. Then, Dan Shinsako, who was subbed in mid-game, was walked; putting the game-tying run on base.
After a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third base, McKune came to the plate and ran out a play in the infield to drive in McCormack. Jack Belcaster followed suit with a single to center field, tying the game with no outs and the top of the order coming to bat once again.
After a pitching change by New Trier, Weigel beautifully bunted the Huskies into a second and third situation. The Trevians didn't take their chances with Picchiotti and walked him intentionally. With the bases loaded, Kowalczuk hit the walk-off single, and who better to drive in than man of the hour, McKune.
"A lot of times when you go down 7-0 to a team that has won state championships and is a perennial powerhouse, usually you learn that lesson the hard way. We were fortunate enough to learn a lesson and still move on," said Ledbetter after his squad escaped elimination.
Players poured out of the Oak Park dugout and helmets, hats and gloves flew through the air as a do pile swallowed the Huskies' first basemen.