Entering this season, the Lyons Township and Oak Park and River Forest High School baseball teams were regarded as the top two teams in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
Aside from winning traditions, the commonality shared between the Lions (8-3) and Huskies (8-2) this spring is stellar pitching. Power arms were on display Saturday as visiting LTHS pulled off a 4-0, 3-1 doubleheader sweep.
LTHS gave the ball to ace Grant Leader (1.25 ERA) and Eric Steensma (0.72 ERA), while OPRF countered with top starters Brendan Barrette and Griffin Holderfield (both have a 1.80 earned run average) during Saturday’s early season showdown.
In the opener, Leader threw 6.2 scoreless innings of two-hit baseball. Employing a variety of pitches (fastball, breaking ball, changeup), the Illinois-bound Leader struck out 14.
“Leader had one of the finer pitching performances I’ve seen,” OPRF assistant coach Matt Maloney said. “We couldn’t get anything off him. He was picking us apart the plate. He can throw any pitch in any count.”
With runs at a premium, the Huskies hurt their cause in the third inning with a couple of defensive miscues. The Lions took advantage, scoring three runs. LTHS added a run in the fourth on Bryce Moskiewicz’s single, which scored Michael Martino.
After Barrette was pulled midway through the game, OPRF reliever Henry Darrow was effective over 3.2 innings. He allowed no runs, three hits, walked one and fanned six to keep the Huskies, theoretically, within striking distance.
However, Leader limited the Huskies to three hits and no scoring opportunities.
“His first couple of outings, Grant wasn’t necessarily struggling, but he didn’t quite seem like himself,” LTHS coach Kevin Diete. “The last few outings he has had a different mindset and taken control.”
The second game offered more of the same from both sides. With Holderfield (Creighton recruit) and Steensma engaged in a pitchers’ duel, OPRF held a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh.
Danny Machaj started off a LTHS rally with a single. Will Stenner tied the game on a single to score Machaj. With Stenner and Martino on base, the Lions’ Matt Piento laced a single to left field scoring both for a 3-1 lead. Steensma went the distance to earn the win. He allowed one unearned run, two hits, two walks and struck out five.
“We preach to our guys about the importance of timely hitting,” Diete said about the game-two win. “We were able to do that in the last inning.
While OPRF was disappointed with being swept, Huskies’ head coach Joe Parenti put the loss in perspective.
“It was just one of those days,” Parenti said. “I don’t think we played our best baseball and if you asked LT they probably would say the same thing about themselves. There have been other Oak Park vs. LT games with more scoring, but these were intense, competitive games with very good pitching.”
Offensively, Jack Ferraro leads LTHS with a .486 average, 10 RBIs and four doubles. Machaj is hitting .324 with 10 runs scored. Moskiewicz is hitting .294.
The OPRF infield is hitting well with sophomore second baseman Dylan Whitney leading the club in average at .485. First baseman Holderfield (.450) senior shortstop Brian May (.444) and third baseman Jake Adams (.400) have contributed as well. Andrew Neilson, Mason Hsieh-Bailey and Diamond lengthen the lineup with their offensive ability.
Like the other high school baseball teams in the area, the Lions and Huskies have dealt with multiple cancellations due to inclement weather.
“It’s been a tough mental drain,” Diete said. “Obviously, we want to keep our players sharp, bad habits can develop during practice. We’ve been keeping our practices short and sweet and just tune up the things that we need to.”