The OPRF softball team powered through a 10-game losing streak this season and strung together 11-straight victories before falling to top-ranked and eventual Class 4A state champ Sandburg 2-1 in the Class 4A Orland Park Supersectional Championship last week.
The Huskies’ late-season surge was due in part to senior Leah Bry’s exceptional pitching. Bry, who will continue to play softball at the collegiate level when she attends Butler in the fall, went 19-14 this season and racked up 321 strikeouts in 233 2/3 innings of work for a new school record. She fanned 28 batters while allowing just three hits total in the two sectional games OPRF won. Bry had allowed just one run entering the seventh inning against Sandburg when the Eagles scattered four hits that produced two runs and wiped out OPRF’s 1-0 lead in the final stanza.
“Leah did everything we asked of her this season and more,” said head coach Mel Kolbusz of his ace who helped lead the Huskies to 16 wins in their last 20 games. “She really carried us. When the opposing coach of the No. 1 team in the state says his team faced the best pitcher they’d seen all year in the supersectional title game, that means something. She’ll be difficult to replace next season.”
The pitching distance being expanded from 40 to 43 feet this season didn’t seem to have an affect on Bry, according to Kolbusz.
“While she can throw in the 60-mph range, a fastball is not Leah’s best pitch,” said Kolbusz. “The distance change actually aided her many other pitches.”
Kolbusz added that Bry did not throw one fastball against Sandburg, instead relying predominantly on her curve and screwballs. She yielded no walks in the game. She finished the season with an ERA of 1.53.
The Huskies (21-18) also lose top hitters Lauren Flannery, Hannah Press and Marisa Belpedio to graduation. Flannery, who batted leadoff in the last 20 games, led OPRF with a .367 batting average. Press batted .336, while Belpedio hit to a .316 clip with 23 RBIs.
Third baseman Anne Ryan, one of nine other juniors on this season’s team expected back next year, led the Huskies with 28 RBIs. In OPRF’s 8-1 victory over Young in the sectional championship, Ryan drove in four runs.
The Huskies, who have won 15 out of the last 18 West Suburban (Silver) Conference titles, had to settle for second this season with a 9-3 record. Downer Grove North took the top spot with a mark of 11-1.
“With our overall record being what it was, we came into the Sandburg game under the radar, which was good,” said Kolbusz. “We had them soiling their pants in the seventh, but they proved they were the best team in the state.
“I’m really proud of our team. To come back after having a rough patch mid-season and play that way in June is outstanding in my book.”
Along with their ups and downs this season, the Huskies also had a taste of the wacky. In a bizarre call during a game against Lyons Township in April, the umpire called Flannery out for interference after she hit a two-run homer when one of her teammates touched her before she finished her trot around the bases.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen such a thing called,” said Kolbusz at the time. Kolbusz, who was recently inducted into OPRF’s Coaches Hall of Fame, has been coaching softball for 24 years, 18 of which as head coach.