Oak Park and River Forest High School head baseball coach Joe Parenti was confident there would be a season this spring once the number of COVID-19 cases decreased earlier this year. And the Huskies were eager and ready to get going once the season was approved.
“The boys are very happy to not only be doing something they love, but hanging out with each other,” said Parenti. “The atmosphere is very positive and efficient. We have a lot to go over in a short period of time, but we feel we’re good to go.”
In 2019, OPRF went 24-13 and advanced to the IHSA Class 4A supersectional, where the Huskies lost to Hampshire 4-0. Senior Grant Holderfield, an Indiana signee, is the only player returning from that team, and the Huskies will depend on him often.
“Grant really is a premier pitcher and one of the best in the state,” Parenti said. “He’ll also be an outfielder for us when he’s not pitching.”
There are plenty of new faces for OPRF this spring, including seniors Jared Cortez, Ethan Glossa and Aiden Krupp (Notre Dame recruit); junior David Andolina; sophomore Calvin Proskey; and freshman Mason Phillips, whom Parenti is excited about.
“He’s an all-around talent with great speed, and he’s handling being on the varsity very well,” he said.
Pitching has been the key to OPRF’s success in recent seasons, and with quality arms like Holderfield, Proskey, Andolina and Krupp, the Huskies’ depth is strong once again this year. OPRF should also be solid both defensively and at the plate, as well as feature plenty of speed in the lineup.
But given the lack of experience playing together, Parenti would like to see the fundamentals develop more.
“We need to execute the little things in game situations, for example, bunting, not missing signs, being in the correct position for bunt coverages and relays”, he said. “This will come in time and with more in-game experience. It’s a process leading up to the playoffs.”
Even with missing last season, Parenti believes another highly competitive year in the West Suburban Silver is at hand.
“All the coaches feel that this will be a great conference season,” he said. “The teams are very balanced in comparison to one another and anyone can win it. We like our chances, but it will be a great test for every team.”
That was evident in OPRF’s season opener April 17 at home against Hinsdale Central. Behind solid pitching from Holderfield (4 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 7 strikeouts) and 2 RBI and two runs scored by Cortez, the Huskies defeated the Red Devils 14-8 in a sloppily-played game that featured a combined 10 errors for both teams.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, OPRF’s 25-game regular season is comprised of solely West Suburban Conference opponents — all of the Silver teams, plus divisional crossover games with Downers Grove South, Leyden Township and Morton.
The Huskies have a busy week ahead with five games, first on the road at York on April 19 and 24, and at home against Leyden on April 21, York on April 22 and Hinsdale Central on April 23.
Make no mistake, this season will present challenges for OPRF. But Parenti senses his players are ready for anything that comes their way with the positive attitudes they have displayed.
“They’ve handled (the uncertainty) as best one can expect; based on our practices and contact days they’re in great spirits,” said Parenti. “I think the main lesson we are taking from this is to be thankful for everything in your life because things can change without any of your control. I feel everyone is really thankful to be playing baseball again and excited to be back on the field doing something they love and are good at.”