Batters – and pitchers for that matter – will have three extra feet to see the ball this season now that the IHSA has lengthened the distance from the pitcher’s mound to homeplate for high school softball. OPRF head coach Mel Kolbusz is happy for the three-feet of extra space.

“It will not only make the game more exciting with more offense, but it will be safer for the pitchers as well,” said the long-time softball coach now entering his 18th season as skipper for OPRF.

Kolbusz remembered all to well a hard-hit line drive ricocheting off the side of former pitcher Maura Lund’s head during a game in 2004. “The ball ended up way out in left field,” he recalled. “It looked horrible, but Maura stayed in the game, we won and she went on to Seton Hall to play. It could have been a lot worse.”

Adapting to the new distance hasn’t been a problem for Kolbusz’s ace this season, Leah Bry. The Butler-bound senior, who will likely start close to 30 of OPRF’s games, spent the entire offseason tossing from the newly assigned 43 feet.

“She’s adjusted fine and Leah throws all sorts of pitches, so even her breaking balls have been corrected and everything,” said Kolbusz. “Her fastball’s been clocked as high as 62 mph, so she’s ready to go.”

Bry returns with experience, having gone 16-5 with 171 strikeouts in 130 innings last season. The right-hander will be tossing to fellow returner Lauren Flannery, who batted to a .356 clip last year and led the team in RBIs with 30. Flannery will play softball at Winona State (Minn.) next season.

Also back and expected to play pivotal roles this season are seniors Hannah Press (outfielder), Marisa Belpedio (first base), Kristin Wirtz and Micheline Figel. But with 11 seniors gone from last season’s 27-8 team, Kolbusz will rely heavily on a talented junior group.

Of the 10 juniors finding spots on this season’s roster, Alana Weitzenfeld, Ann Ryan, Emily Bacalao, Erin Flanagan and Anna Munz are likely to contend for starting jobs. Weitzenfeld, who plays shortstop, led the junior varsity squad last season with a .434 batting average. Ryan batted .303 on JV, while starting at third base. Kolbusz said he’s likely to rotate Bacalao, Flanagan and Munz in the outfield as the season progresses.

Kolbusz added he’s planning to keep sophomore pitcher Sarafina Andeoli on JV to start the season, but move her up to varsity when the Huskies travel to Ohio for their annual Wendy’s Tournament in April.

“If we need Sarafina earlier than that then we’ll bring her up, but I want her to get some experience playing on JV for the most part,” he said.

OPRF will try to keep its hold on the West Suburban (Silver) Conference top spot. The last time the Huskies lost the conference title was 2005, the year they won the state championship. The team has secured 15 Silver Division titles in the last 17 years.

Glenbard West is one opponent that may give the Huskies some fits, with Lyons Township and Downers Grove North always formidable.

A team that is used to being ranked in the top 20, OPRF will have the opportunity to go into games as the underdog this season.

The Huskies, who opened the season with a 1-0 loss to Richards on Friday, are scheduled to host Morton in a West Suburban Conference crossover game today (Wednesday, March 24). They’ll travel to last year’s Class 4A state champ Loyola on Monday (4:45 p.m.) and return home to face Wheaton Warrenville South on March 31 during spring break (11 a.m.).

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...