Entering this season, the OPRF and Lyons Township High School baseball teams were regarded as the top two teams in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.

Aside from a winning tradition, the commonality shared between the Huskies (8-2) and Lions (8-3) this spring is top-notch pitching. Plenty of power arms were on display Saturday as visiting LTHS pulled off a 4-0, 3-1 doubleheader sweep.

OPRF gave the ball to top starters Brendan Barrette and Griffin Holderfield (both have a 1.80 earned run average), while LTHS countered with ace Grant Leader (1.25 ERA) and Eric Steensma (0.72 ERA) in Saturday’s early-season showdown.

In the opener, Leader was nothing short of spectacular, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings of three-hit baseball. Employing a variety of pitches (fastball, breaking ball, changeup), the Illinois-bound Leader struck out 14.

“Leader had one of the finer pitching performances I’ve seen,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “We couldn’t get anything off him. He was picking us apart the plate. He can throw any pitch in any count.”

With runs at a premium, the Huskies hurt their cause in the third inning with a couple of defensive miscues. The Lions took full advantage, scoring three runs. LTHS added a run in the fourth on Bryce Moskiewicz’s single, which scored Michael Martino.

After Barrette was pulled midway through the game, OPRF reliever Henry Darrow was effective over 3.2 innings. He allowed no runs, three hits, walked one and fanned six to keep the Huskies within striking distance.

However, Leader was completely dialed in, limiting the Huskies to three hits and no scoring opportunities.

“His first couple of outings, Grant wasn’t necessarily struggling but he didn’t quite seem like himself,” LTHS coach Kevin Diete. “The last few outings he has had a different mindset and taken control, which is awesome. We know how fortunate we are to have Grant. The way he competes is the best in the state.”

The second game offered more of the same from both sides. With Holderfield (Creighton recruit) and Steensma engaged in a pitchers’ duel, OPRF held a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh.

Danny Machaj started off a LTHS rally with a single. Will Stenner tied the game on a single to score Machaj. With Stenner and Martino on base, the Lions’ Matt Piento laced a single to left field scoring both for a 3-1 lead. Steensma went the distance to earn the win. He allowed one unearned run, two hits, two walks and struck out five.

“It was great to come out on top,” Diete said about the Game 2 win. “We’ve been on the other side when we have lost in the last inning. We preach to our guys about the importance of timely hitting. We were able to do that in the last inning.

“We’re fortunate to get the win especially against a team like Oak Park. We compare ourselves against them. They are classy whether they win or lose, and it’s good competition against great rivals.”

While OPRF was disappointed being swept, head coach Joe Parenti put the loss in perspective.

“It was just one of those days,” Parenti said. “I don’t think we played our best baseball and if you asked LT, they probably would say the same thing about themselves. There have been other Oak Park vs. LT games with more scoring, but these were intense, competitive games with very good pitching.

“Barrette didn’t have his best stuff but he battled. Darrow did a fine job in relief,” Parenti said about Game 1. “In the second game, I thought Griff pitched great. It came down to a couple of hits that found holes. Their pitcher (Steensma) competed all day and Piento came up with a clutch hit.”

After Saturday’s twin bill, both teams remain primed. Along with deep, talented pitching staffs, the Huskies and Lions are solid on offense and defense.

The OPRF infield is hitting well with sophomore second baseman Dylan Whitney leading the club in average at .485. First baseman Holderfield (.450), senior shortstop Brian May (.444), and third baseman Jake Adams (.400) have contributed as well. Andrew Neilson, Jai Mason Hsieh-Bailey, and Nathan Diamond lengthen the lineup with their offensive ability.

“We started a bit slow this season, which is expected,” Parenti said. “We have made some adjustments and guys are starting to heat up a bit. Defensively, I feel like we are a pretty strong team.”

Along with Barrette, Holderfield and Darrow, Pepperdine-bound Diamond and Jack Brennan are solid options in the pitching rotation.

Jack Ferraro leads LTHS with a .486 average, 10 RBIs and four doubles. Machaj is hitting .324 with 10 runs scored. Moskiewicz, an excellent athlete who also plays football at LTHS, is hitting .294.

Like the other high school baseball teams in the area, the Huskies and Lions have dealt with multiple cancellations due to inclement weather. This unforeseen circumstance has allowed more practice time and evaluation of players.

Nevertheless, it’s been a bummer for both teams.

“It’s been a tough mental drain,” Diete said. “Obviously, we want to keep our players sharp; bad habits can develop during practice. We’ve been keeping our practices short and sweet and just tune up the things we need to.”

In addition to the obstacle Mother Nature has provided this spring, OPRF was dealt the news of longtime head coach Chris Ledbetter’s dismissal on March 22. Acting as the interim head coach this season, Parenti has praised his players’ resilience and positive approach mentally.

“I’ve been impressed with the way the boys have handled everything across the board,” Parenti said. “The players understand what it means to be a part of this program. They take pride in playing baseball for the Oak Park community. I tell the kids this is a chapter in your life, so play hard and enjoy it, but there will be many more chapters to come. I feel lucky to be coaching these kids.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...