With her small stature and understated nature, it’s easy to overlook Oak Park and River Forest High School left fielder Ireland Flannery in the Huskies’ star-studded lineup.
OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz certainly understands the value of the senior sparkplug.
“She’s underrated but not by me. I overrate her,” Kolbusz said. “Ireland does a lot of the dirty work and works really hard. She’s got a great spirit about her and she’s a pleasure to coach.”
Hitting ninth in the lineup, Flannery has excelled offensively with a .426 batting average, 26 hits and 24 runs scored. She also packs a punch at the plate, evidenced by two home runs this season.
Flannery crushed a solo homer and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs in a 10-7 win against Trinity April 11.
“It’s not my first home run as a Huskie but it’s my first one over the fence,” Flannery said after the game. “So I guess it’s like the first real home run.
“I have confidence when I go up to the plate. It’s been hard for pitchers to get to my zone because I’m so small. I’ve learned to be disciplined.”
Inspired by her older sister, Lauren, Flannery began playing softball at an early age.
“I wanted to be just like Lauren so I started playing softball as soon as I could,” Flannery said. “She was my role model. Lauren was definitely my greatest influence to play the sport and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Flannery used to put on Lauren’s softball gear and play in the front yard. Those fun workouts fostered a deep respect for the game that’s carried over to her time with the Huskies.
“Ireland does little things like carry the equipment in and tell teammates to participate more,” senior pitcher Emily Richardson said. “She does a great job of keeping our team together. Every team needs an Ireland, and I’m glad we have one.”
Many of her OPRF teammates got to know Flannery when they played together for Oak Park Windmills. Seniors like center fielder Sam Linde, third baseman Ellie Ziegler, first baseman Caitlyn Santiago and junior pitcher Chardonnay Harris were some of her notable teammates on excellent Windmills teams.
“My Windmills team stuck together,” Flannery said. “I played with a lot of those same players most of my time with the Windmills. That was a good base for my (softball) career to play with so many great players.
“We were really good which helped everyone build confidence. When we started playing high school softball, we knew each other’s abilities and trusted what each of us could do.”
That trust coupled with considerable talent has powered the Huskies to a 26-2 record this spring. Last year, OPRF finished 33-4 and third in the Class 4A state tournament.
When the playoffs begin May 24, Flannery will maintain her role as a valuable hitter at the bottom of the order and solid defender in left field.
“When Ireland was in eighth grade, I said to her sister, Lauren, ‘She’s going to come here, right?’ I’m so glad she decided to come to Oak Park.
“I like her in the ninth spot because I want a good hitter down there.”
Flannery will attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon next fall.
“I haven’t fully decided yet whether to play softball in college,” she said. “It’s an option. My dad and my sister have told me to at least talk to the coach about it.”