OPRF softball ousted by Whitney Young in 4A softball playoffs

Huskies graduate strong senior class, but strong core of players to return next season

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team entered its Class 4A Niles West Sectional title game against Whitney Young looking to atone for last season's loss against York at the same stage of the postseason on the same field. In that game, the Dukes' standout freshman and Michigan commit Lauren Derkowski shut down OPRF in a 6-1 victory, ending the Huskies' bid for three straight state titles.

This spring, Whitney Young also featured a dominant freshman pitcher who abruptly ended the Huskies' season in another sectional final.

Shelby Jacobson allowed only one run on two hits and struck out eight as Whitney Young edged OPRF 2-1 on Saturday, May 31.

"I think both teams played well, but [Whitney] Young played a little bit better and came out on top," OPRF senior Taylor Divello said. "We had a good season and I enjoyed playing with everyone on the team."

In a scoreless game, Whitney Young took the lead on Brianna Nykaza's RBI single in the top of the fifth inning. The Dolphins added a crucial insurance run in their half of the seventh when Nykaza hit a sacrifice fly to make the score 2-0.

After a scoring opportunity was quelled in the sixth inning, OPRF threatened again in the bottom of the seventh.

The Huskies' Carli Tucci led off with a walk and moved to second on Karly Cantrell's single. Lucy Goodwin's sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position. With the Dolphins' infield playing back, Divello's grounder to shortstop Isabella Garcia was good enough to bring in Tucci and advance Cantrell to third. But Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale grounded out to Garcia to end the game and 2019 season for the Huskies.

"I thought we played really well," Tucci said. "I'm proud of the way we left everything on the field. The coaching staff did a great job this year and we had a very good season. The injuries we had were tough, but we didn't let them get us down."

Divello threw a complete game in her final appearance for OPRF. She allowed two runs (one unearned) and eight hits over seven innings. She also walked one and struck out three.

"The Whitney Young game was a battle between two really good teams," OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz said. "Both pitchers pitched their hearts out. A costly mistake in the seventh by us led to the eventual winning run, but we were within one hit of tying the game and possibly scoring a walk-off winner. I was very proud of the way my team never gave up and battled to the end."

Season stats leaders included: Kamenitsa-Hale (.550 batting average, 46 runs scored), Maddi Grant (.558, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs), Fiona Girardot (.527, 5 HR, 32 RBIs), Cantrell (.413, 6 HR, 22 RBIs) and Tucci (.346, 5 HR, 29 RBIs).

Divello (8-4, 3.10 ERA) and Cassie Metzger (7-2, 2.94 ERA) anchored the pitching staff.

"I think we had a very good season," Kolbusz said. "We tied for second in conference, won a regional and finished with an overall record of 25-8. This was also one of the nicest, hardest-working teams I've ever had the pleasure to coach."

Divello is part of an excellent class of seven seniors that's departing, including Wisconsin signee Girardot, University of Illinois at Chicago signee Mary Jones (who missed the season due to a torn ACL), Kamenitsa-Hale, Tucci, Maeve Ryan and Zoe Prouty. The seniors played a significant role in helping the Huskies win back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 2016 & 2017.

"This is one of my favorite teams I've ever played on," Divello said. "I am really going to miss it because we had such a special group of girls."

Among the group, Girardot graduates OPRF as one of the best players in program history. Although her last campaign was curtailed by injury, Giradot is thankful for her time with the Huskies.

"I'm honored to have been a part of the great tradition and successful OPRF softball program," Girardot said. "I wish we could have gone farther, but this was a really fun season. It was so much fun to represent and play for the Oak Park and River Forest community. I have not only developed as a player but as a person. I'm sad that my four years have come to an end. I'm really going to miss all of my great teammates."

OPRF typically reloads rather than rebuilds each season. Under the guidance of Kolbusz, the Huskies will have a solid foundation of players back next season. Metzger appears poised to become the team's top starting pitcher, while Jacky Neuman, Grant, Cantrell and Goodwin also return. Reinforcements from the lower levels are on the way as well. The junior varsity went 20-1 and the freshmen team finished 17-1 this year.


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