Frustrating,” is how OPRF head baseball coach Chris Ledbetter described his team’s final game of the summer, a 2-0 loss to West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe Glenbard West in the semifinals of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Summer State tournament back on July 18th. Ledbetter wasn’t about to sum up the entire summer with that word.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he quickly added, “the summer as a whole was not frustrating at all. We had a lot of kids get to play and I saw a lot of improvement. But to lose to Glenbard West wasn’t good. To lose to a team like Lyons Township (who played in the title game) fine, but to lose to Glenbard West, I wasn’t fine with that, and they were not either.”
Ledbetter’s discontent was hinged on the fact that his team had trounced the Hilltoppers twice earlier in the season, 11-3 and 16-3, both in five innings. But this time around the Huskies grounded into four double plays, and couldn’t manage a run.
“It’s a better team than that,” said Ledbetter of OPRF, which finished the summer 17-7. The Huskies went 25-12 during the regular spring season, losing to St. Patrick in the Fenwick Sectional championship in early June. “There’s a lot of good talent, but they need to be more selective at the plate.”
The summer itself was much more positive for a team that lost six starters to graduation, including sluggers Andrew Hagins and Nick Vom Brack. One aspect Ledbetter found pleasing was the amount of playing time the younger guys received.
“We played about six split squad games this time, and that’s important for a young ballclub,” he said. “Everyone was getting an opportunity to start and show what they can do. The more playing time they get, the better they get.”
The team received a slight scare at the onset of the summer league when starting pitcher Neal Mejia separated his shoulder in just the second game. Mejia missed several games throughout the summer, but returned and finished up strong, according to Ledbetter.
“Neal pitched real well. It was nice to see him come back from his injury and perform up to par for us,” he said.
Mejia took the loss against Glenbard West, allowing just three hits.
Ledbetter said that the entire pitching staff was a bright point of the off-season.
Those that shined included Brett Newman, Sebastian Hickerson, Drew Golz, a starter as a sophomore last year, and Kyle Glancy, who led the sophomore team in wins last year.
“Every one of them threw well and showed command and poise on the mound,” said Ledbetter, who added he’s also looking forward to the arrival of Walther Lutheran transfer Jack Edwards, a 6-foot-4-inch right-hander. Edwards was not able to play summer ball due to an ACL injury suffered in the spring.
Gil Claudio, Joe Kelty and Mark Bernthal, whose brother Dave was a member of the 2001 team that finished runner-up at state, were the team’s top hitters over the summer, according to Ledbetter.
“They were the ones and they are the ones that right now we feel confident with at the plate,” said Ledbetter.
The Huskies faired well in most of their tournaments over the summer, most notably going 2-1 at Joliet Jackhammers tournament and winning the championship 13-3 over Elk Grove.
“They played the title game like it was a playoff game,” said Ledbetter. “They just did everything right. That’s when I realized this team has the ability to go far. They just need to be consistent.”
OPRF went 2-2 in the Leyden tournament and 1-3 in the Richards tournament, where only wood bats were used and the team was without four key starters.
“Overall I was pleased with the effort this summer,” said Ledbetter. “It can be tough on the kids when they’ve got so much going on. They were trying in practice, they were trying to get better, which is all we can ask for during the off-season.”