Outdoor spring sport seasons are often tricky for Chicago area high schools, especially when it comes to baseball and softball. This is due to the unpredictable weather that wreaks havoc on the schedules.
Oak Park and River Forest softball coach Mel Kolbusz has seen his share of bad weather and postponements over the years. He believes this spring has been one of the worst yet.
“This spring has been brutal,” he said. “This has probably been the coldest spring since I’ve been coaching. We may have had wetter seasons, but this one has definitely been the coldest. We’ve had to postpone multiple games and have rescheduled as many as we can.”
Indeed, there’s no question that games have been sporadic. So how do the Huskies manage to stay sharp?
“We stay as sharp as we can by trying to make the boring necessary repetitions as interesting as possible during practice,” Kolbusz said. “Not an easy job.”
“At practice we are working really hard and we do a lot of indoor hitting,” second baseman Fiona Girardot said. “It’s hard to substitute live pitching, but we are doing our best. We’re getting better in each game because in practice we are focusing on the fundamentals.”
On April 11, OPRF played a game for the first time in two weeks. The Huskies traveled to Veterans Park in North Riverside to face host Riverside-Brookfield. The Huskies’ extra work paid off as OPRF defeated RBHS 13-1 in six innings.
“It was a great team win,” Girardot said. “I thought we all hit well and our defense was solid. RB always gives us a good game. We know a lot of the girls on the team from travel.”
Freshman Cassie Metzger earned the win with a pitching line of no runs on four hits and four strikeouts in five innings.
The offense had a very productive day at the plate, banging out 20 hits. Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale collected four hits, while Maeve Nelson, Maeve Ryan, and Olivia Glass each had three hits. Nelson and Ryan had a pair of doubles apiece. Annie Deamer-Nagle contributed two hits and two RBIs.
“Playing RB is always a fun game because they’re fairly close so it’s kind of a neighborhood rivalry,” Kolbusz said. “Doug (Schultz) always does a nice job with his players and they have quite a bit of talent this year.
“We have some really good hitters on our team this year, and (Wednesday) was no exception. There was no score after two innings, but we scored seven runs in the third and the game just got away from them after that.”
In fact, OPRF has excelled offensively all spring. The Huskies have nine players hitting .375 or better and have belted 14 home runs in eight games
Prior to their game against RBHS, the Huskies closed out March by winning two of three games. OPRF defeated Mother McAuley 9-2 and Nazareth 17-8, but lost to Warren 3-0 at the Dome at the Ballpark in Rosemont.
Winning pitcher Taylor Divello improved to 3-1 by tossing a complete game against Mother McAuley. She allowed two runs (one earned), scattered eight hits, walked two and struck out five. Nelson had a huge game with four hits (including a pair of home runs), three RBIs and three runs scored. Girardot (HR, 2 RBIs), Maddi Grant (2-for-4), Deamer-Nagle (HR, 3 RBIs) and Carli Tucci (HR) contributed as well for the Huskies who belted five homers during the game.
OPRF showed its power against Nazareth as well with three home runs. Jaelyn Brown went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and a pair of homers, while Nelson (4-for-5, 5 RBIs) also went yard. Glass (3-for-4, 3 RBIs), Ryan (3-for-5, 2 runs scored) and Kamensita-Hale (3-for-5, 3 runs, 2 RBIs) provided ample support at the plate.
Despite the relative lack of activity due to all the postponements, the Huskies feel the season has gotten off to a strong start.
“Overall, I think we’ve played very well,” Kolbusz said. “We had a few unknowns before the season started like finding five new starters and trying to develop a whole new pitching staff, but the kids are doing a great job in practice and coming along nicely.”
Kolbusz singled out his returning starters in particular not just for their production, but for the leadership they have brought this season.
“Our standout players so far are probably Maeve Nelson, Fiona Girardot, Olivia Glass, and Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale,” he said. “Maeve and Fiona are our captains and have done a great job in their leadership role.”
The Huskies are hoping that the weather improves soon so that they can get games in more often. Yet regardless of the circumstances, their goal – winning a state title for the third consecutive season – has not changed.
“I think our team has great chemistry and has been playing well so far this season, but there’s always room for improvement,” Girardot said. “We need to get better in every aspect of the game Pitching and defense wins games so we are focusing on that. We need stay present in the moment and take it game by game.”
Kolbusz knows that while there has been very good play at the start, the season is long and there is always room for improvement.
“Our areas for improvement are continuing to develop our young pitching staff,” Kolbusz said. “We also want to be more consistent in our overall play.”
OPRF has a four-game homestand this week (April 18-21) with games against Proviso West, Waubonsie Valley, Lane and Richards. All games start at 4:30 p.m., except Saturday’s game against Richards (11 a.m.)
“There is still a lot of the season left, and the only games that really matter are the last seven,” Kolbusz said. “Hopefully we can continue to improve and reach our ultimate goal, which is a three-peat.”