After Oak Park and River Forest High School pitcher Chardonnay Harris struck out Lincoln-Way East third baseman Lexi Krause to record the last out of a 1-0 win in the Class 4A state final, the Huskies stormed the pitcher’s circle to celebrate.
For about half of the varsity players, the victory against Lincoln-Way East marked the last time they will play a game together.
Over the past two seasons, OPRF has amassed a 74-3 record with two state titles. That’s Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals good, in terms of an extremely lopsided won/loss ledger.
Based on the last two remarkable seasons and the harsh reality OPRF will lose a bevy of talented players (notably Harris), the Huskies deserve some time to truly enjoy their accomplishments.
Once next spring rolls around, however, the inevitable question will be asked.
Can the Huskies three-peat?
OPRF certainly should be in the conversation as a 4A title contender next year based on their returning players.
Second baseman Fiona Girardot, a junior next season, provides a major cause for optimism. Coupled with shortstop Maeve Nelson, they comprise the best middle infield in the state.
Stepping right in as a freshman starter at second base, Girardot made a seamless adjustment to high school softball with her smooth defensive ability and powerful bat.
“All the girls on varsity were very welcoming and we established really great chemistry,” she said.
This season, Girardot hit a team-best .603 with six home runs, 59 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and .615 on-base percentage. Her 50-game hitting streak was halted by a diving defensive play in the 4A final.
Girardot, who will play college softball at Wisconsin, is not new to success. Her love for softball was firmly established during her little league days. Girardot played on a River Forest 10U team that won a state championship.
“Winning that state championship motivated me to keep playing softball,” Girardot said. “I loved playing with such a great group of girls.”
Girardot also credits watching her older brother, Jack, who played baseball at OPRF as a source of motivation. Now a sophomore at Indiana University, Jack also excelled in water polo at OPRF.
Girardot began playing softball as a pitcher but soon realized it wasn’t a good fit for her. She decided to become a middle infielder and has blossomed into an elite second baseman at OPRF.
During the offseason, Girardot will work on improving her defensive skills. She spends much of her time practicing with her dad, John, and playing on her travel team where she plays shortstop.
Last summer, Girardot played with nationally-known Illinois Chill Softball. Facing some of the top-ranked national competition from around the country, her inspired play contributed to a Top 10 finish at the PGF National Softball Tournament in California.
Although a gifted two-way player, Girardot is constantly striving for improvement.
“Offense is the strongest part of my game,” said Girardot, “but defense is more important.”
With Nelson and Girardot entrenched in the heart of the lineup plus burgeoning stars like Olivia Glass and Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale, OPRF should be fine offensively next season.
Nelson, Girardot, and centerfielder Kamenitsa-Hale should stabilize the defense as well.
Although it’s impossible to replace a pitcher like Harris, the combination of Taylor Divello and Julia Youman will be called on to anchor the Huskies’ new-look rotation.
Whether OPRF wins a third straight state title or evolves into a full-fledged dynasty remains to be seen, but Girardot undoubtedly will be a key player in the Huskies’ success for two more seasons.