The Oak Park and River Forest High School baseball team won its 14th regional title in the past 15 seasons by employing the postseason-proven formula of pitching, defense and speed.
Engaged in a scoreless battle with visiting Maine West, the Huskies scored four runs in the fifth inning via a sacrifice bunt, five hits and three stolen bases to seize a 4-0 lead.
“We took a little window of opportunity that they gave us and created four runs out of it,” OPRF coach Chris Ledbetter said. “It turned into a big inning for us executing some really simple things. It’s gratifying because we work on these aspects of the game.”
The small ball scoring spurt provided more than enough support for OPRF starting pitcher Hank Christie who notched a 4-0 complete-game win. The Huskies notched their 30th regional championship in program history. Former OPRF coach Jack Kaiser and Ledbetter have guided the Huskies to 16 and 14 regional titles, respectively.
“Last year, we didn’t get it done in the regional [regional final loss to Lyons Township] so winning the regional is definitely something we wanted to do this season,” OPRF center fielder Chris Atwood said. “At this point, we’re just taking it a ballgame at a time but our goal is to win a state championship.”
Christie started the Huskies’ fortuitous fifth inning with a single. Jack Fitzgerald laid down a sacrifice bunt advancing Christie to second base. After Christie moved to third on a passed ball, second baseman Jeremy Gaines singled to left scoring Christie for a 1-0 lead. The speedy Gaines, who stole second base, quickly advanced to third on Atwood’s single putting runners on the corners with one out. Right fielder Ryan Fish scored Gaines on a successful squeeze bunt to make the score 2-0.
After Atwood and Fish pulled off a double steal putting a pair of runners in scoring position, Louisville-bound catcher Pat Rumoro slapped a single to right field, extending the Huskies’ advantage to 4-0.
“Coach Ledbetter told me Chris and Ryan would be running so I needed to protect them. Luckily, the pitcher threw a curveball which gave them a chance to take two bases,” Rumoro said. “I came through and knocked them in. We executed perfectly that inning.”
Afforded the luxury of a four-run cushion, Christie retired six of the final eight batters he faced to secure the win.
“Pitching in a 0-0 ballgame is obviously much different than a 4-0 ballgame,” Christie said. “It’s very helpful to have the support of your offense. I wasn’t really too worried when I gave up a couple of hits. I just took a little extra time if a runner was on base, got the grip right in my glove and focused on the spot rather than missing up.”
OPRF (29-7) advances to the Niles West Sectional semifinals where they will face Loyola on Thursday, June 4 at 4:30 p.m. In the other semifinal, Fenwick takes on top-seeded Evanston on Wednesday, June 3 at 4:30 p.m.
Regardless of how the postseason plays out for the Huskies, Ledbetter has enjoyed the ride. He’s glad his players are embracing that mindset as well.
“During the season, I tried to prevent our players from rushing to the playoffs,” Ledbetter said. “The journey is part of the experience. Since the playoffs started, there’s been a different level of intensity but I think the players are also having fun. I haven’t been so pleased with such a group of young men, not only baseball-wise but in everything they do.”