The OPRF and Fenwick baseball teams have their hands full with a series of challenging games coming up on their respective schedules. The Huskies will take on several tough opponents in conference, plus some conference crossover games, while the Friars kicked off their annual gauntlet this week with consecutive games against Mount Carmel, Saint Laurence, Brother Rice, Providence, Loyola and nationally-ranked St. Rita.
But on Saturday, the crosstown rivals squared off at Oak Park and River Forest High School in a game with no conference race implications but plenty of bragging rights at stake. Befitting the history of their rivalry, the Huskies and Friars battled back and forth, with OPRF emerging with a 6-5 victory.
Scoring in the game came in three acts. Fenwick jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. OPRF responded with six unanswered runs (one in the 1st, three in the 3rd and two in the 4th) to take a 6-3 at the end of four innings. The Friars regained momentum by plating two runs in the top of the fifth to make it 6-5.
The top of the seventh offered a final dose of drama. With hard-throwing Dali Durazo on the mound for the Huskies (their fourth pitcher in the game), the Friars’ Jay Militello was hit by a pitch to open the inning. Jack Hendricks attempted a sacrifice bunt but Militello was thrown out at second base by OPRF catcher Patrick Rumoro. With Hendricks on first, senior shortstop Kevin Forde reached base on an infield single to put runners on first and second. Durazo then struck out Quinn Snarskis on a superb off-speed pitch.
“One of the first pitches was a fastball which I just missed,” said Snarskis, who took the loss as the Friars’ starting pitcher. “He caught me off guard with a good curveball on the strikeout pitch.”
But Durazo hit another batter, Justin Rodriguez, to load the bases with two out. In the end, however, he got the out he needed when Fenwick senior Mike Neill lined out hard to OPRF left-fielder Evan Bell.
“I just tried to throw strikes because I have a good defense behind me,” Durazo said. “I knew Fenwick likes to swing at first pitch fastballs so I tried to throw them off a bit with some off-speed pitches.
“It’s always nice to get the W no matter who we play, but it’s a little more special because it’s Fenwick. We definitely haven’t hit our ceiling. There’s still a long way to go this season, but we have good chemistry and we’re just trying to win some games.”
The game started in auspicious fashion for the Friars. Rodriguez, Neill and Michael Krecek had consecutive RBI singles to give Fenwick the 3-0 advantage in the top of the first.
The Huskies then started to chip away at the Friars’ lead as the Louisville-bound Rumoro hit a sacrifice fly to score leadoff man Chris Atwood in the bottom of the first. OPRF took the lead for good at 4-3 with three runs in the fourth. Bell and Will Johnson tied the game with an RBI each, and Bell scored on a throwing error by Militello to cap off the three-run frame.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, OPRF second baseman Jeremy Gaines reached base safely on a bunt. Gaines, who has committed to Missouri, promptly stole second and scored on Rumoro’s two-base hit to make the score 5-3. Bell (3-for-3) capped off his impressive work at the plate with a sharp RBI single extending the Huskies’ lead to 6-3.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard and focused on getting my bat through the zone,” said Bell, who has committed to Memphis. “We circled this game at the beginning of the season as one we really wanted to win. As the game went along, it really took on a playoff atmosphere.”
In Fenwick’s fifth, Forde reached first safely on a fielder’s choice, scoring Millitello, who led off the inning with a single. With the bases loaded and one out, Neill hit a sac fly to make the score 6-5. However, Jon Kagan made a baserunning mistake and was thrown out at second by the strong-armed Rumoro.
Fenwick (7-1), which made a few costly mental mistakes during the game, fought till the final pitch.
“We came back fighting and got some runs back,” Rodriguez said. “Mike Neill hit the ball solid on the last play of the game but just couldn’t find a hole. All around, I’m proud of our team because we battled. We’ll learn from this loss, especially coming from our crosstown rivals.”
Rumoro turned in an all-around performance, which included handling OPRF pitchers Luke McMahon, Joe Cundari, Griffin Kelty and Durazo.
A split with the Lions
On Saturday, the Huskies (7-3, 4-1 West Suburban Silver) split a doubleheader with conference rival Lyons Township. OPRF won the first game 6-5 and lost the second 7-2. In the opener, the Huskies trailed 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh. After battling back to tie the score 5-5, OPRF had the bases loaded with two outs. The Huskies’ Ryan Fish then laid down a game-winning bunt to score Gaines from third for a dramatic 6-5 victory. Fish is 5-for-5 on bunt hits to the left side of the infield this season.
“Ryan executed one of the greatest plays ever on our home field,” Chris Ledbetter said. “You don’t see too many two-out bunts, especially with a force play at the plate, but Ryan executed the play to perfection.”
The win was not only memorable but historic for Ledbetter, who earned his 400th career victory as the Huskies’ head coach.
“It’s a great way to get No. 400,” Ledbetter said. “That was one of the most memorable innings I’ve been a part of as the coach at OPRF.”