LT's Anna Bryant (13) hits the ball on Friday, April 30, 2021, during a varsity softball game against OPRF at Oak Park and River Forest High School. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Senior pitchers Ava Kostecki and Lily Hanafin combined for 13 strikeouts as the Lyons Township High School softball team notched a 3-2 victory April 30 at Oak Park and River Forest High School. 

“Ava has a great spin on her pitches, and Lily’s speed is unmatchable. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said LTHS senior first baseman Anne Bryant, who was the game’s offensive star with two RBI.

“It’s always an intense competition [with OPRF]. There were lots of great pitching on both sides,” said LTHS coach Nicole Paluch. “Ava and Lily are a great combination who complement each other well.”

OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz gave credit to Kostecki and Hanafin for their performances, but also expressed disappointment with the Huskies’ approach at the plate.

“It’s not realizing what the opposing pitchers are trying to do with us,” he said. “We weren’t making adjustments and swung at whatever. I told the kids that in my opinion, we’re a better team than LTHS, but we didn’t play like it today and lost.”

With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, Hanafin drew a walk off OPRF starting pitcher Cassie Metzger, then came around to score on a double by Bryant. 

Metzger helped her own cause in the bottom of the fifth with a home run to left center off Kostecki that tied the game. But in the top of the sixth, the Lions took advantage of shaky defense by the Huskies to take the lead for good. 

With one out, Ava Paganis reached second when OPRF shortstop Ella Kuenster dropped a pop up, then scored on a double by Tess Meyer, aided by some confusion between the outfielders. Bryant then banged a single up the middle to bring home Meyer.

“The soft hit [by Meyer] to left, that run should have never scored. The kids were wrestling over the ball,” said Kolbusz.

Bryant said she was nervous at the start, but gradually relaxed as the game went on. 

“After my first at-bat [a strikeout], I learned from my mistakes and adjusted,” she said.

OPRF first baseman Maddie Grant homered to lead off the bottom of the sixth, cutting the Huskies’ deficit to one and forcing Paluch to make a pitching change. Hanafin, who started out as the designated player, replaced Kostecki and fanned five of the final seven OPRF batters, including a strikeout of Kuenster to end the game with the tying run aboard. 

Kostecki allowed two runs on five hits in five-plus innings, while walking one and striking out eight for LTHS (7-2). For OPRF (5-2), Metzger went six-plus innings allowing three runs (two unearned) on six hits, walking two and striking out five. 

Paluch feels the season has gone well so far based on the hard offseason work the team put in. She also believes the loss of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a hunger inside the Lions.

“They’re not holding back,” Paluch said. “They know how precious time is, and they’re looking to capitalize every game. We’ll continue to work on getting the timely hits and making sure our defense is solid all-around.”

For his part, Kolbusz is happy to be back on the field this year with the Huskies.

“I told them while I don’t like losing, it’s still fun to be with them,” he said. “We’re just in a little slump right now, and we’re going to try our hardest to get out of it.”

On May 1, OPRF broke its’ two-game losing streak with a 13-5 rout of host Downers Grove South. The Huskies pounded out 19 hits, including home runs by Kuenster, Cate Barkdoll, and Sydney Ross. 

Ross and Rachel Hartman each finished with four hits, while Barkdoll drove in five runs and Ross four.