Oak Park and River Forest senior catcher Mariah Scott missed a hit-and-run sign from head coach Mel Kolbusz in the top of the seventh inning, causing junior shortstop Maeve Nelson to be tagged out on a steal attempt at second base on Saturday.

Less than a minute later, Scott delivered one of the biggest moments in OPRF sports history.

Scott’s towering solo home run in the top of the seventh was all OPRF needed to seal a 1-0 victory in the IHSA Class 4A State Final against Lincoln-Way East High School.

The Huskies (37-1) won their second straight 4A state title. Over the past two seasons, OPRF finished with a 74-3 record.

“I knew I hit the sweet spot and I just took off as fast as I could,” Scott said about her home run. “I heard everyone screaming and I knew it was gone.”

Kolbusz has seen Scott growth in his catcher the last two seasons. He has had faith in Scott through the good times and bad.

“She hits the ball very well. When she’s off, she doesn’t hit the ball very well and she gets down on herself,” Kolbusz said. “But she got her pitch (against Lincoln-Way East) and that thing cleared the fence by 40 or 50 feet surely.”

Saturday’s 4A final at the EastSide Centre in Peoria was dominated in the pitching circle as both pitchers combined for 27 strikeouts, two walks and four hits allowed.

DePaul commit Alex Storako allowed just one with 11 strikeouts, but Kolbusz knew he had the winning card in his hand.

“Their pitcher was awesome, just terrific,” he said. “But I thought mine was a little bit better.”

Chardonnay Harris threw eight shutout innings in relief during the Huskies’ state championship victory in 2016. And 364 days later, she added one more to the trophy case.

Harris fanned 16 of the 21 outs she recorded in a complete game, one-hit effort. Once Scott blasted the ball over the center field fence, Harris had a feeling she was going to be hoisting some hardware.

“I watch the pitcher every time she throws, and I had a feeling Mariah was going to do something,” Harris said.

It may have seemed like Harris hit the gas pedal a little harder in the bottom of the seventh, but she knows that she has been flooring it since there was snow on the ground.

“Since the start of the season, all the way to this game, I’ve had this team the whole time,” she said. “I knew in that moment there was no reason to even let up.”

The accolades are aplenty for Harris, but one that may reign supreme is the praise she has earned from one of the best coaches in Illinois softball history.

“Chardonnay’s just awesome,” Kolbusz said regarding his star pitcher. “We had a great lineup behind her and have played well defensively all year, but she’s the best pitcher I’ve ever had.”

Harris will be an Auburn Tiger once the fall semester gets underway, but one thing is for certain: She will always be an OPRF Huskie.

“I love high school. I know everyone says that, but I feel like I’ve just had a different experience,” Harris said. “To go back-to-back, with these girls and the ones before, it’s just been a dream come true.”

OPRF bounces Barrington in state semis

After a 5-1 win over Barrington in the 4A state semifinals, Kolbusz and the Huskies appeared poised to win a second straight state championship.

Defending the crown is no easy task, and Kolbusz acknowledged as much after the game.

“Every game is hard, once you get down here,” he said.

“Winning state last year doesn’t take away from how we approach each game this year,” OPRF senior Sydney Babbington said. “We don’t take any team for granted.”

Luckily, the game seems to slow down for OPRF when their star pitcher, Harris, is in the pitcher’s circle.

“When we can get ahead with Chardonnay pitching, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team,” Kolbusz said. “The other team already figures they’ll have a tough time scoring with Chardonnay pitching. When we get ahead, it puts more pressure on our opponent.”

Predictably, Harris didn’t disappoint with yet another complete-game victory, this time against Barrington. She allowed one run and two hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts. 

Prior to the state semifinals, the inimitable Harris tossed two perfect games this postseason.

Harris’ remarkable work coupled with a balanced offense including hitting stars like Fiona Girardot, Olivia Glass (.356, 4 HR, 38 RBIs), Allison Smart (.341, 19 RBIs), Babbington, Maeve Nelson, and Kamenista-Hale (.464, 11 SB), it quickly becomes obvious why OPRF has been virtually unbeatable this spring. Harris is a tremendous hitter, too.

Other contributors to the Huskies’ this season include Annie-Deamer Nagle, Paige Ross, Katie O’Shea, Abra Kaplan and Megan Krikau.

In addition to Harris, OPRF had pitching depth with senior Emma Cekander and promising underclassmen Taylor Divello and Julia Youman.

“We have a pretty good pitching combination with Chardonnay and Emily,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of pressure for those two to pitch their best every game, but they get the job done and do it very well.

The keys to our success this season were good coaching, pitching and hitting. And we just played as a team every single game.”

Against Barrington, the scoring opened in the top of the second inning on a single Scott single, plating Girardot (1-for-3, run scored). Babbington ripped a solo home run in the third, and Glass (1-for-2, 2 RBIs) knocked in two with an RBI double in the sixth to provide more than offense for OPRF.

Barrington starting pitcher Catherine McMahon (25-3) allowed four runs (two earned), five hits, a walk and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings of work. Leyden Atlas and Tori Meyer had a hit each against Harris.

Barrington, which finished with a 37-4 record, bounced back to beat Marist 7-6 in nine innings in the third-place game at the state tournament.

OPRF by the numbers

Team Record: 37-1; Huskies defeat Lincoln-Way East 2-1 in Class 4A state final on Saturday, June 10.

 

Players:

Fiona Girardot: .603 batting average, 6 HR, 59 RBIs, 118 total bases, 22 doubles, .615 on-base percentage

Maeve Nelson: .514 batting average, 12 HR, 61 RBIs, .603 on-base percentage, 60 runs scored

Sydney Babbington .496 batting average, 7 HR, 20 RBIs, 11 stolen bases

Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale: .464 batting average, 48 runs scored,11 stolen bases

Mariah Scott: .433, 2 HR, 32 RBIs, .500 on-base percentage, G-W HR state final

Olivia Glass: .356 batting average, ,4 HR, 38 RBIs, .504 slugging percentage

Katie O’Shea: .290 batting average, HR, 25 RBIs

 

Pitching

Chardonnay Harris (19-0), 118.2 innings pitched, 0.29 ERA, 18 complete games, 14 shutouts, 7 runs (5 earned), 9 walks, 233 striekouts

Emma Cekander (12-1), 4.02 ERA, 69.2 innings pitched, 57 strikeouts, 8 walks

Taylor Divello (5-0, 1.99 ERA, 31.2 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 30 strikeouts

 

Coaching

Mel Kolbusz (31 years at OPRF, 25 as varsity softball coach)

Career Record: 713-212-2

State tournament results

Championships (3) 2005, 2016, 2017

Second Place 2004

Third Place (2) 2003, 2015

 

Outlook for next season: With Maeve Nelson and Fiona Girardot back in the mix, OPRF should be potent on both offense and defense again. The potential of burgeoning stars like Olivia Glass and Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale could take OPRF to an even higher level.

 

On the flipside, replacing a legendary pitcher like Chardonnay Harris won’t be easy. Pitchers like Taylor Divello and Julia Youman will likely lead a “call for arms” rotation although coach Mel Kolbusz typically likes to run out a couple top pitchers in a perfect world a la Emily Richardson and Harris in 2016.

 

OPRF is a really fun team to watch every spring. The quest for a three-peat only spices up the Huskies’ already interesting narrative on the softball field.

-Marty Farmer, sports editor

 

 

 

       

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