The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team were uncharacteristically down in 2022, finishing with an 11-16 record and losing an IHSA Class 4A regional final in walkoff fashion to Taft.

But with seven returnees, second-year coach J.P. Coughlin is optimistic about the Huskies’ chances of a turnaround season.

“This could be the deepest team we’ve had in years,” he said. “Our youth may show up from time to time, but with the way this group practices, I expect us to get better and better throughout the season.”

OPRF returns all three outfielders in seniors Kelly Cortez, Kelly Regan and Anne Stine. The Huskies also have back junior Rachel Buchta at second base and junior Tyler Brock, whom Coughlin calls “one of the top defensive catchers in the state.”

Brock will receive pitches from OPRF’s top two returning pitchers, juniors Aria Hammerschmidt and Jordan Alioto. They’ll be joined in the circle by sophomore Anna Topel, junior Audrey Dumelle and senior Isabella Morales.

Other Huskies looking to make an impact are sophomores Maura Carmody, Elyssa Hasapis, Gloria Hronek, and Julia Mattiace; juniors Macy Callahan, Lillian Menconi, and Kennedy Ross; and senior Annika Chesney.

“Our defense is really strong this year, which is important because we will most likely not put up monster strikeout numbers from our pitching staff,” Coughlin said. “Our offense is very versatile. We will hit for power and are very fast throughout the lineup.”

Unlike recent seasons, OPRF isn’t getting preseason buzz. That’s fine with Coughlin and the Huskies.

“We’re not ranked and nobody’s talking about us,” he said. “This group has a lot of potential, is surrounded by positive vibes…I can’t wait to eventually get on the field and perform as a team.”

After seeing a pair of games postponed due to weather last week, OPRF was scheduled to have its opener against visiting Maine South this week.

Fenwick downs Naz in season opener

A five-run eruption in the first inning gave Fenwick High School the cushion it needed in a season-opening 6-5 victory over Nazareth Academy on March 20.

The Friars pounded out 11 hits, with Madelyn Entler, Kailey Janda, Ellie Kolb and Teresa Nevarez each having two apiece. Sophie Stone got the win in relief, going four innings and allowing one run on four hits while striking out seven.

Entler (.386 batting average, 21 RBI in 2022), Kolb (.304, 13 RBI) and Stone (2.77 ERA) are all part of a class second-year coach Bryan Hoffman is excited about.

“We’ve seen a ton of improvement from our current juniors, and we’re looking for many of them to take on greater roles this season,” he said.

Despite struggling against Nazareth (four runs on six hits over three innings), senior Talia Lorenzo, an Aurora University commit, is Fenwick’s ace in the circle. Last year, she posted 166 strikeouts, nine victories and a 4.49 ERA.

Janda led the Friars in hitting last season with a .567 average and 34 hits. Besides Nevarez, a sophomore, Fenwick’s other returnees are sophomores Caity Barganski and Molly Mullen, and seniors Emma Meehan and Maya Stathas. Newcomers include sophomore Leah Lowery and senior Allison Arispe.

Fenwick went 14-15-1 in 2022 and won an IHSA Class 3A regional title while more than quadrupling the previous season’s win total. But Hoffman believes the Friars could’ve had a few more wins had they executed better in close games.

“We’re working to be the team with the highest softball IQ in our conference,” he said.

Fenwick visits Ridgewood on March 22, then has its home opener at the Dominican Priory on March 24 against Payton College Prep.

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