Summer answers questions for OPRF baseball

?Pitching exceeded expectations but there's work to do

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By JOE TROST

 When the summer first started, Oak Park and River Forest baseball coach Chris Ledbetter knew he had a good team.

But he just wasn't sure how good the Huskies would be.

"I knew we had some question marks with the pitching," Ledbetter said. "We graduated three seniors in the spring, and they ate up most of the work. But offensively, I knew things would be exciting."

After opening the campaign with 12 consecutive wins, Ledbetter's squad saw its season come to an end in pool play of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association State Finals last week at North Central College in Naperville.

After three consecutive losses to Joliet Catholic (7-6), St. Charles East (3-0) and Elk Grove (3-2), the Huskies concluded their summer run with an 18-6 record.

"The weird thing is if we would have beat Elk Grove in that last pool play game, we could have advanced to the semifinals via tiebreakers," Ledbetter said. "We would have finished 1-2 in pool play and so would have three other teams. But we didn't win, so it didn't make a difference."

Despite the frustration of making a couple of costly miscues in the field, Ledbetter refuses to let that overshadow the entire summer.

"Overall, the summer was very good," Ledbetter said. "We played good baseball, very fundamentally-sound baseball.

"We beat Lyons and Glenbard West twice, and that was huge for us. We put the ball in play and made the plays defensively when we had to. But at state, we booted four or five plays and those hurt us a lot."

Senior Sam Brashler highlighted a pitching staff that answered a number of questions people had. Junior Neil Mejia and senior Rick Voytik are two other key right-handers who opened some eyes this summer.

"I honestly think we have a chance to be better next spring than we were this spring," Brashler said. "We had some injuries and some people didn't have the experience they needed.

"We have three good starters going into next season, and our bullpen is going to be better. Some people were surprised by how we did this summer, but I wasn't at all. We struggled a little at the end, because we were missing some people."

Left-hander Adam Halla is another Huskie to watch out for come next spring.

"We weren't really concerned with what their ERAs were," Ledbetter said. "We were more concerned with them getting in their side work and improving throughout the summer. There's no question they did."

As expected, seniors Mike Cunningham, Jon Meacham, Andrew Hagins, Bobby Fratto and David Studer carried the offensive attack.

"As odd as it may seem, I was a little worried when we made it down to the state finals," Ledbetter said. "I was worried that if we won it, whether they would work hard in the offseason.

"That's not to say they would be lazy by any means, but would they have the same drive they have now. We got a taste of success, but the kids know they still have a lot of work to do."

Thanks to that success, Ledbetter believes he has all the motivation he needs for the offseason.

"I'll remind the kids of the success throughout the fall and winter," Ledbetter said. "We came close this summer, but we aren't there yet and they know that.

"Hopefully, this summer success makes them hungry to get it done next spring. The talent is there."

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