Baseball: Oak Park-River Forest seeks return to the top06/01/2011 Chicago
Oak Park-River Forest senior Zach Weigel pitches during the Sectional Semi Final game against Saint Rita at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.
| Michael Jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 13, 2012 7:32PM
It was a pretty good year for the West Suburban Conference Silver last season, as three teams reached the IHSA Class 4A Sweet 16.
Oak Park-River Forest was one of the conference’s top three, making it to a sectional final. The Huskies lost it to Mount Carmel 3-2, but with four returning starters — including NCAA Division I recruits Zach Weigel (Seton Hall) and Jack Picchiotti (Purdue) — OPRF hopes to make a return trip to the top of the conference standings.
Weigel, a standout defender for the soccer team in the fall, saw his 29-game hitting streak last season end in a loss to Hinsdale Central. During Weigel’s streak, the Huskies (30-11 overall, 11-7 conference) won 12 consecutive games prior to that loss.
Picchiotti, who played football in the fall, was the team’s hitting leader (.505 average), and he had eight RBIs in a 19-6 win over Loyola last season. Weigel, who played center field, pitched and batted leadoff, hit .501.
The other conference teams to reach the sectional finals were eventual state champion Lyons Township, and Glenbard West. LT defeated the Hilltoppers 7-2 in a sectional final, and are ranked No. 2 behind state runner-up Providence in PrepBaseballReport.com’s preseason Top 50 rankings in the state.
Oak Park-River Forest is ranked No. 12, while York is ranked No. 42. Lyons Township only has two returning starters from its state title team, and lost both of its starting pitchers to graduation.
In PBR’s individual rankings for the Class of 2012, Picchiotti is ranked No. 26 and Weigel is ranked No. 85.
The left-handed Weigel is the ace of OPRF’s staff, which includes left-hander Max Guzzetta and hard-throwing right-hander Joe McKune.
“Our pitching is deep and really improved,” said OPRF coach Chris Ledbetter.
Other returning pitchers include Mike Brennan (also an outfielder), Colin O’Brien and Nick Kowalczuk, a first baseman by trade who feels he has recovered from shoulder problems that prevented him from pitching in 2011.
Kowalczuk is ranked No. 23 on PBR’s list of the top prospects from the Class of 2013 in the state.
“He’s a junior now and has been on the varsity since his freshman year,” Ledbetter said. “He’s fielding (college) offers. He’s considered as one of those kids that will play at the next level.”
Newcomers on the mound include Sam Munno and Jack Badger. OPRF’s new outfielders are Sam Cottingham-Beard and Alex Rice. One of the team’s returning outfielders is Matt McCormick, a starting linebacker on the football team.
Ledbetter is looking for candidates to play second base, and the left side of the infield. The Huskies are looking at Jack Belcaster at second and Mike Adams at third; O’Brien and Dan Shinsako are battling it out at shortstop.
After hitting 40 home runs last season, Ledbetter is wondering how his team will handle the new wood-like BBCOR bats all teams will use this season.
“I’ve talked to the team about, ‘No free 90s,’ ” Ledbetter said. “No bases on balls and no errors.”
OPRF will play in the inaugural Bajenski Memorial tournament, in May, to end the regular season. The Huskies will open the tournament — at Silver Cross Field in Joliet — against St. Laurence on May 17. The championship game will be played at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood on May 19.
The eight-team tournament includes top teams such as Providence, Mount Carmel, New Trier and St. Rita.