By Marty Farmer
During his 27 years as the Oak Park and River Forest High School softball coach Mel Kolbusz has had the pleasure of managing many outstanding pitchers. Chardonnay Harris served as the Huskies' ace during their run of back-to-back Class 4A state titles in 2016 and 2017.
After watching Harris dominate hitters during her brilliant career, Kolbusz watched York freshman pitcher Lauren Derkowski turn the tables on OPRF in the Class 4A Niles West Sectional final last year. The Michigan recruit tossed a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts and hit a three-run homer as the Dukes defeated the Huskies 6-1 and ended the latter's bid for a three-peat in state championships.
"We knew [Derkowski] was a good pitcher," Kolbusz said after the game. "She was on her game today and shut us down."
"We gave it a good effort today," he added. "We just ran up against a really hot pitcher. York played the better game today and won. Congratulations to them."
OPRF finished 26-6 overall and 10-2 in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division last season.
The Huskies lost a significant number of talented players to graduation last year, including standout starters Maeve Nelson, Olivia Glass and Annie Deamer-Nagle. Nelson was a four-time all-state player. Deamer-Nagle earned third-team all-state honors, while Glass was an all-conference catcher.
Fortunately, OPRF is a program that reloads rather than rebuilds.
"Our goal is to become the best team of softball players and student-athletes that we can be," said Kolbusz, "and win our last game of the season." Winning their last game of the season obviously implies the Huskies' annual goal remains bagging another state title.
Although nationally-recognized players like Harris (Auburn) and Nelson (Northwestern) have moved on to play college softball, senior superstar Fiona Girardot is back to lead the Huskies this spring.
The Wisconsin recruit is a 2019 preseason MaxPreps All-American, two-time all-state player and was regarded as the top sophomore in the country in 2017. Girardot, who slides over from second base to shortstop this year, hit .639 with 14 home runs, 19 doubles, 57 RBIs and 57 runs scored last season.
"I'm going to continue to play hard and lead by good example," Girardot said. "We'll listen to our coaches as they have a lot of experience in girls softball."
The Huskies welcome back several other outstanding players this season. Senior center fielder Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale had a batting average of .360 with 39 runs scored last year. As one of the team's captains, Kamenitsa sets the tone for OPRF with her tremendous speed, great defense and leadership.
Senior outfielder Carli Tucci and sophomore Maddi Grant both hit for average and power last year to lengthen the Huskies' formidable lineup. Tucci hit .326 with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 36 runs scored, while Grant batted .429 to go with four homers and 29 RBIs.
Junior Karly Cantrell (.375, 3 HR, 10 RBIs in 2018) has shown dramatic improvement according to Kolbusz. A good athlete who also plays basketball at OPRF, Cantrell's skills are coming along nicely.
"We have a solid core group of girls back this year as well as some new promising faces," Girardot said. "We're going to focus on getting better each game and pay attention to the fundamentals of the game. Hopefully that will bring some success to our team."
Senior Taylor Divello is the team's No. 1 pitcher. She went 12-3 last season. Sophomore Cassie Metzger (5-3 in 2018) will also see action in the circle for OPRF.
"Taylor worked hard to improve from last year," Kolbusz said. "Cassie is a hard worker and great student of the game."
Sophomore infielder Sydney Ross, junior outfielder Sarah Phelan and sophomore catcher Lucy Goodwin are exciting newcomers to watch. Ross is a hard-hitting infielder that could be the team's starting second baseman, while Phelan is a good hitter who also has an excellent arm and range defensively. Goodwin also provides solid defense behind the plate.
In their season opener, March 14, the Huskies routed New Trier 20-3 in four innings at Heritage Park in Wheeling. Divello allowed two runs and four hits and struck out seven to pick up the win. OPRF overwhelmed the Trevians with its power game as Goodwin and Ross each hit a three-run home run and Grant belted a pair of homers and drove in five runs. Girardot (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) and Divello (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) also led the scoring barrage.
"We really work hard on our hitting and hope that will be a strong point for us," Kolbusz said. "We need to work on blending the new players with the vets to form a cohesive team. The keys for our team are improving every day and consistent play."
The Huskies host Nazareth Academy on Monday, March 25, followed by a game at Mother McAuley on Wednesday, March 27. Both games start at 4:30 p.m.
Answer Book 2019
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