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By Brad Spencer
Zachary Weigel was an eighth grader when he first went to Silver Cross Field in Joliet to watch his local high school baseball team compete in the Class 4A State Finals. The senior hurler for the OPRF baseball team will soon take the same field after helping lead the Huskies to a 1-0 win over Highland Park in the Rockford 1 Supersectional held at RiverHawks Stadium in Rockford on Monday night.
Weigel, who will play at Seton Hall next season, held the Giants (20-20) to just three hits in a complete-game effort, while walking three and striking out four. It was his sixth victory on the season.
Weigel faced Highland Park's Brett Shimanovsky, who held the Huskies to just two hits, though one drove in the game winning run. With one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Weigel drew a walk. Purdue-bound Jack Picchiotti was then hit by a pitch before junior Nick Kowalczuk drove in Weigel with a hard ground ball to left field.
Highland Park stranded a runner at second base in the top of the seventh, and Weigel struck out the final batter.
OPRF (29-10-1) was last in the Class 4A State Finals in June of 2008 when the Huskies lost 3-2 to Prairie Ridge in the title game..
OPRF will take on Grant of Fox Lake in the State semifinal on Friday at 3 p.m. A win there could pit the Huskies against West Suburban (Silver) Conference rival Lyons Township in the state title game on Saturday (5 p.m.) if the Lions get past Minooka in the semifinal. OPRF lost twice to the Lions during the regular season.
The Huskies made their way to the supersectional title game with some gritty performances last week. The team won the Evanston Sectional championship by holding on to defeat highly-ranked and top seeded Maine South 10-8 on Saturday. OPRF had a 10-2 lead in the fourth inning when the Hawks (32-6) began a comeback bid similar to the Huskies' 8-7 win over New Trier in the sectional semifinal the day before. But strong pitching by Joe McKune and timely hitting by Weigel (2-run single, 2-run HR) helped the Huskies hold off Maine South long enough to win their first sectional title since that '08 season.
OPRF's thrilling win over New Trier will likely go down as one of the best comebacks in school history. Trailing 7-0 after three innings, the Huskies came surging back by scoring five runs in the fourth, which included a three-run homer by Picchiotti.
"That got everybody pumped up," said Picchiotti after the game. "It really put our rally together."
Kowalczuk drove in the game-winner with a walk-off single in the seventh.
"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," said OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter after his squad escaped elimination. "We were fortunate enough to learn a lesson and still move on."
Nate Schuler contributed to this report.