Baseball: Lyons Township falls to Huskies in title game
Lyons Township's Matt Robare is tagged out at home by Oak Park-River Forest catcher Jack Picchiotti in the top of the seventh inning of the IHSA Class 4A state championship game. | Larry Kane~for Sun-Times Media
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Updated: June 18, 2012 4:40PM
Not much came easily this season for Oak Park-River Forest’s baseball team.
And it was a struggle at times on Saturday night for Zach Weigel and Michael Brennan. But all of their stories had a happy ending at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
OPRF, which finished third in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division this spring, won its first state title since 1981, beating league rival Lyons Township 4-3 behind big contributions from Weigel and Brennan.
Weigel breezed through the first three innings before gutting his way through the final four to finish with a seven-hitter. And Brennan followed three strikeouts by delivering the game-winning hit, a walk-off single to right with the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the seventh.
“I knew I’d have to leave that in the past,” Brennan said of his earlier struggles. “Golden sombrero with a game-winning hit? I’ll take it any day.”
So will OPRF coach Chris Ledbetter, who played for legendary Huskies coach Jack Kaiser and won his first title in his third championship-game berth since taking over the program in 2001.
“I talked to George (Ushela, LT’s coach) before the game,” Ledbetter said. “I think we both take pride in the fact we’re intense rivals. There’s nobody I’d rather get W’s against, but to do it the right way. … His teams are always well-prepared and well-coached and I thought it’d be harder.”
It was hard enough. The Huskies (30-9-1) took a 1-0 lead in the third on Jack Picchiotti’s RBI triple to left-center. But LT (27-13-1) tied it in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by Brad Taylor (2-for-4, RBI) and left two runners on to end the inning.
Losing pitcher Steve Heilenbach (5-5) gave himself a 2-1 lead with an RBI double to left-center in the fifth, his second hit of the game. Again Weigel limited the damage by leaving two more runners on.
OPRF took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, scoring on Alex Rice’s RBI single and a wild pitch. But the pendulum swung back LT’s way in the sixth.
No. 9 hitter Stewart Nelson beat out an infield single to score pinch-runner Kevin Pikul and stole second. On a single to left by Evan Booth (2-for-4, run), Nelson suddenly stumbled as he passed OPRF third baseman Colin O’Brien. Nelson was granted third base on obstruction, but Weigel escaped by getting the next hitter on an inning-ending popout.
Ushela argued for Nelson to get another base. “He wasn’t at third, but he was really close to third,” the LT coach said. “And when he went down the outfielder didn’t even have the ball yet, and the outfielder was deep. For him to throw a kid out who’s fast like Stewart at the plate from that distance, the kid better have had a cape on.”
Weigel got out of one more jam in the seventh, when shortstop Dan Shinsako threw out Matt Robare trying to score from third on Tom Prescott’s grounder. And then the Huskies won it in the bottom of the inning.
Picchiotti (2-for-3, two runs, RBI) led off with another triple to the right-field corner. Two intentional walks later, Brennan delivered the game-winning hit on the first pitch, a fastball away.
“Mike struggled throughout the entire game, was having trouble picking up the ball,” Weigel said. “He got his head down a little bit, but just needed to stay focused, stay up. That last at-bat was all that mattered for him.”
And it was all that mattered for the Huskies, too.