As much as analytics has worked its way into the sports lexicon, I still believe a home run pretty much speaks for itself. I don’t need to know exit velocity or launch angle to appreciate the inherent beauty of a two-run bomb over the outfield fence.
I grew up in River Forest in the 1980s, watching the Cubs and White Sox when the only stats shown on TV (left to right) were batting average, home runs and runs batted in. There was no WAR (Wins Above Replacement), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) or OPS (On-base Plus Slugging). When did baseball and softball stats become analogous to acronyms on the New York Stock Exchange ticker?
So in the spirit of my tendency to sound like an old-school sports curmudgeon, I’d like to thank the Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team for bringing the game back to blunt force basics.
The Class 4A two-time state champions hit a whopping, school-record 62 home runs in 28 regular-season games this spring. Who’s hitting third in the lineup — Thor?
The reality is the team’s Avengers-like prowess at the plate has powered OPRF to a 23-5 overall record and 10-2 mark in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
While the Huskies’ home runs have been well distributed, the leaders in round-trippers are senior shortstop Maeve Nelson and junior second baseman Fiona Girardot with 14 and 13, respectively.
Complementing OPRF’s modern-day version of the “M&M Boys” (New York Yankees legends Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle), teammates Mary Jones has nine homers and Olivia Glass, Annie Deamer-Nagle and Carli Tucci have five apiece. Five other OPRF players have “gone yard” at least once this season.
Even more problematic for opponents, the Huskies can score in a variety of ways. The team has scored 292 runs and is hitting .427 with a .488 on-base percentage. OPRF thrives with a merry-go-round offense.
Taylor Divello, Zoe Prouty and Cassie Metzger have formed a solid pitching staff as well. Head coach Mel Kolbusz has even added a new wrinkle, using the uber-athletic Nelson as a reliever lately just to give teams something else to think about in the postseason.
The Huskies open the playoffs at home this week. Barring an epic upset against the winner of Jones vs. Proviso East, OPRF will play in Saturday’s regional final (11 a.m.) against either visiting Lane or St. Ignatius.
While OPRF also fielded a very balanced team team last year, pitcher Chardonnay Harris clearly assumed the primary role in winning a second straight state championship. The two-time All-State selection tossed a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Lincoln-Way East in the 4A championship game.
Of course, Huskie fans won’t soon forget catcher Mariah Scott won that game, fittingly, on a walk-off home run.