Girardot's return sparks OPRF softball

All-State shortstop hits for cycle in first game back from injury

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

When the wind blows out at Wrigley Field, the Cubs and their opponents usually look forward to high-scoring games.

Such was the case in high school softball Saturday afternoon in Oak Lawn when visiting Oak Park and River Forest outslugged Richards 18-9.

"It was very windy and a crazy game," OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz said. "We took the lead early and then we let them get back into the game. We scored more runs later on. There were a couple of wind-blown fly balls that couldn't be caught. We're glad to get the W."

The return of star senior shortstop Fiona Girardot powered the Huskies to victory. Out of action since the second game of the season due to a broken right middle finger, the Wisconsin signee had a huge day at the plate, hitting for the cycle and driving in six runs, including a grand slam.

"It felt great to be back out there and contribute to the team's success. I missed playing with my teammates for the past month," Girardot said. "It's the first time I've had an injury that took me out of the game. I learned that there's a lot going on in the dugout that you don't know about when you are playing.

"Our offense has been really good lately. I think our defense is solid, but we need to work on the little details of the game because those will make a big difference during the playoffs."

Against Richards, several others contributed for the Huskies, including Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale (4-for-5, 3 runs scored), Carli Tucci (3-for-6, 2 RBIs, 5 runs scored), Maddi Grant (3-for-5, 2 RBIs) and Jacky Neuman (3-for-5, 2 RBIs, 2 runs scored). Pitcher Taylor Divello earned the win.

"Despite the pretty hefty 18 runs, Saturday's win was honestly pretty frustrating just because it got drawn out a lot more than it needed to be," Kamenitsa-Hale said. "It's a pretty good example of us playing good enough to win handily, but still not quite locking down wins the way we can. We did have a decent day at the plate though. It was refreshing to see us bounce back after any rough defensive patches with some runs in every inning. That's a good habit for our team to get into."

The Huskies also deafeated Hinsdale Central 11-1 in five innings on Monday, April 22. Grant and Kamenitsa-Hale drove in three runs apiece and Sydney Ross belted a two-run homer. Girardot and Neuman chipped in two RBIs each. Pitcher Julia Youman (2-0) allowed three hits and one run with four strikeouts to earn the win. 

On the season, Grant is hitting a team-best .598 with five homers and 27 RBIs, while Kamenitsa-Hale (.521, 22 runs scored), Tucci (4 HR, 20 RBIs), Neuman (.483, 11 RBIs) and Karly Cantrell (.480) have also contributed. Along with Divello, who has a 4-1 record and 1.79 ERA, Cassie Metzger (3-1, 3.90 ERA), Zoe Prouty (3-0, 3.23 ERA) and Julia Youman (0.55 ERA, 20 strikeouts, no walks in 20 innings) round out a solid pitching staff.

"The team is really coming together and playing well as a unit," Tucci said. "We communicate, pick each other up and always make our games and practices enjoyable."

Although OPRF went 7-2 without Girardot, the team is thrilled to have a true game-changer and one of the best high school players in the country back in the lineup.

"I told the kids after the game that it's good to have Fiona back," Kolbusz said. "She takes charge of things when she's out there and made some nice plays in the field. I asked her how her finger's feeling and she said it felt pretty good."

Picking up the slack is something the OPRF lineup will continue to need to do as another of the Huskies' top hitters, senior outfielder Mary Jones, has missed the season due to a torn ACL injury, sustained in January. Incredibly, there is a chance she could return in time for the state tournament.

"Mary was second-team All-State last year," said Kolbusz of the University of Illinois Chicago signee, who had 12 home runs and 49 RBIs last season. "She had surgery on Feb. 1 and has been walking around lately without crutches or a brace. She's working hard in her rehab and is trying her best to see if she can get back toward the end of the year, maybe the end of May in time for the playoffs."

If Jones returns this season, Kolbusz has a plan to maximize one of the Huskies' best hitters.

"I could put her in just to bat (as a designated hitter). If she gets on base, I could run for her once and bring her back in to hit again," Kolbusz said. "Mary comes to all the games and sits with the girls. She's still a part of the team. It's been a tremendous loss, but we're hopeful that she can come back."

Pitching will be another key factor as OPRF (12-2) vies for its third Class 4A championship in four years. Although lacking a pure ace like Chardonnay Harris or Emily Richardson as in recent seasons, OPRF has received good efforts from Divello, Metzger and Prouty.

"Taylor is my number one, but we use the whole staff," Kolbusz said. "We have no complete games. Even if a pitcher is doing well, I try to bring someone else in to get an inning or two."

Thanks to the unpredictable weather, OPRF has had a few postponements and embarks on a busy upcoming schedule with five games in six days (April 24-29). The Huskies travel to Downers Grove North, before hosting Glenbard West, York, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lyons Township in succession.

"I could not be more excited for the rest of the season," Kamenitsa-Hale said. "We have some huge tests coming up this week in conference and obviously the postseason will be super intense, too. Having Fiona back has already made such a difference offensively and defensively. I'm so excited to get back to normal with her in the lineup."

Kolbusz knows the Huskies will need to be consistent, especially at the plate, during the upcoming challenging stretch of games.

"We can score a lot of runs because we have plenty of hitters," he said. "But against pitchers like the one we faced versus Downers North (4-0 loss), we strike out a lot and don't put the ball in play often. We're going to keep working on our hitting and hopefully become more consistent and get big hits when we need them."

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the players are cherishing their bond on the field.

"I am very excited for the rest of the season but will be at a loss for words when it's over," Divello said. "I've played with Fiona, Mary, Karly and Nellie since we were about 10, so I will really miss them. Everyone gets along well, which I believe is a big part of our success."

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