On the bench for much of the season due to an injury, OPRF senior Fiona Girardot still finished with a .540 batting average, five home runs and 30 RBI's. (File photo)

Based on the program’s enviable history, Oak Park and River Forest High School softball will never fly under the radar entering the Class 4A state playoffs. However, relative to the Huskies’ enormous expectation of completing a three-peat in state titles last year, the team’s 2019 agenda  appears a bit more manageable this spring.

“Our teams expectations are to play up to our potential and ability and let the chips fall where they may,” coach Mel Kolbusz said. “We must continue to play as a cohesive unit, have good fundamentals and come up with some clutch hits.”

OPRF went 22-7 during the regular season, including a 9-3 mark and second-place showing in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. A couple of key injuries hampered the Huskies from reaching their full potential.

“The season went pretty well,” Kolbusz said. “Significant injuries to Fiona Girardot and Mary Jones contributed to us not being as good as we could have been, but other players stepped up to fill the void. I was pleased with our never give up attitude and teammates supporting each other when needed.”

Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale led OPRF in hitting with a .567 batting average and 43 runs scored. Maddi Grant (.558, 8 home runs, 55 RBIs), Girardot (.540, 5 HR, 30 RBIs) and Carli Tucci (.362, 6 HR, 29 RBIs) also produced at the plate. The team’s top pitchers are Taylor Divello (7-3, 3.68 ERA) and Cassie Metzger (6-2, 3.39 ERA).

“We are all very excited for the playoffs,” Divello said. “After losing to York [2018 state playoffs], we are eager to come back stronger. We are a very close-knit team and everybody gets along, which I believe is a big part of our success.”

The Huskies are the top seed in the Niles West Sectional, followed by Whitney Young, Loyola Academy and Leyden.

OPRF cruised to a 16-1 win in four innings against Lincoln Park in the Evanston Regional semifinals on May 21. Zoe Prouty (6-0) allowed one runs and three hits with six strikeouts to earn the victory. Girardot (3 runs scored), Metzger (3 RBIs), Karly Cantrell (2 RBIs) and Cate Barkdoll paced the offense with two hits apiece. Grant added a triple and scored three times.

The Huskies advance to the regional final against either Fenton or the host Wildkits on Friday, May 24 at 4:30 p.m.

In Class 3A, rivals Fenwick and Trinity are both in the Benet Academy Sectional. The Friars and Blazers are seeded second and sixth, respectively, with fellow contenders St. Francis, Glenbard South and Benet (No. 1, 3 and 5) in the bracket.

“I want us to be peaking by the end of the regional and we need to be fully prepared for the sectionals,” Fenwick coach Sarah James said. “We’re eager for competition and we will thrive when the pressure is on.”

In regional semifinal games, Trinity takes on Noble Street Charter and Fenwick faces Phoenix Military Academy. Fenwick and Trinity have to win three games apiece to set up a rematch in the Benet Sectional final on Tuesday, May 28.

Senior Emely Martinez, a St. Xavier commit, is Trinity’s top player. She can impact games in a variety of ways as a standout utility player.

“Emely has proven to be a force on the field and at the plate,” coach Kelly Small said earlier this season. “Her intelligence and power as a hitter, combined with her speed on the bases, make her a valuable asset.”

Senior first baseman Rachel McGovern and junior third baseman Bella Parravicini anchor the infield, while junior Nikki Romano is a terrific all-around catcher. Freshman Meagan Murphy is a valuable utility player.

The Friars, who feature a strong pitching combination of  Cassandra Lee and Alyssa Stramaglia, defeated the Blazers 9-3 on April 15.

“We have a strong pitching staff and great hitters,” Lee said. “The main thing that we must keep improving on is hitting consistently so that we can score more runs.One of our most prominent advantages on the field is our team chemistry. We are able to work together and have each other’s back both on and off the field.”

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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...