By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School baseball team had high hopes about punching a return ticket to the state finals of the Class 4A playoffs this spring.
Unfortunately, Maine South gained a considerable measure of revenge in the Hawks' 6-1 victory over the defending state champs on Saturday in the championship game of the Niles West Sectional.
Last spring, the Huskies edged Maine South 10-8 en route to a sectional title and eventual state title.
Adam Depkon made sure the rematch went the Hawks way by dropping a three-run homer on the Huskies in the second inning. Maine South's Mike Virgilio took it from there, allowing just four hits with nine strikeouts over six innings to pick up the win. Senior ace Henry Cappel took the loss for the Huskies.
OPRF (27-11) threatened to get back in the game late with the bases loaded in the seventh; however, Maine South reliever Bobby Pennington closed the door on the Huskies' season. Outfielder Patrick Clifford hit into a fielder's choice, scoring catcher Pat Rumoro in the seventh to push across the Huskies' lone run against Maine South (24-11).
OPRF advanced to the Niles West Sectional final by defeating New Trier 4-1 in the sectional semifinals. Junior Sam Cottingham-Beard turned in a complete-game, two-hit gem to send the Trevians packing out of the postseason. He also struck out five in a dominant effort on the mound.
Tied at 1-1, OPRF scored three runs in the fourth inning. Pinch runner Jacob Harris scored all the way from first base on New Trier pitcher Kevin Douaire's throwing error off Clifford's bunt. Clifford ended up at third base on the Trevians' defensive miscue and later scored on shortstop Charlie Fencik's RBI hit.
Although OPRF didn't win a second consecutive state championship, the Huskies rallied down the stretch of the season to capture the coveted West Suburban (Silver) Conference title. A three-game sweep of Downers Grove North triggered the Huskies' late surge to the league championship.
The regional final provided more drama as OPRF edged visiting Loyola 3-2 to notch the Huskies' 14th straight regional championship. Cottingham-Beard threw out a Loyola runner at the place off a sacrifice fly to emphatically end the game. Michigan-bound first baseman Nick Kowalczuk drove in all three runs highlighted a timely two-run double in the sixth for OPRF.
The Huskies lose plenty of seniors, notably Alex Rice, Kowalczuk, Fencik, Clifford and Cappel. Head coach Chris Ledbetter will look to reload for another deep postseason run in 2014 with the return of outfielder/pitcher Cottingham-Beard, third baseman Keith Rogalla, catcher Pat Rumoro, catcher Jon Ernest and pitcher Ian Luttrell.