By Marty Farmer
Sluggish starts, porous defense or missed scoring opportunities, the Fenwick High School softball team didn't play its best during a four-game gauntlet against East Suburban Catholic Conference powerhouses Marist and Benet. At the same time, a tip of the cap certainly is in order to both the RedHawks and Redwings (both state title contenders), who collectively outscored the Friars 40-4 last week.
Marist delivered the damage on Saturday at the Priory in River Forest with 10-1, 13-3 wins over host Fenwick. After tagging the Friars' top starting pitcher, Valerie Perrelli (7-6), with a loss in the opener, Marist completed the sweep in decisive fashion with eight runs in the third and three more in the fourth in Game 2, en route to a 13-3 victory in five innings.
"Valerie has pitched very well, but some games we haven't supported her well either defensively or offensively," said Fenwick coach Mike Marrese. "The problem is we really only have one healthy top pitcher because Jess Mrozek has been dealing with a back injury. We're not using injuries as an excuse for our recent struggles, and I'm confident we'll turn it around."
In the early going of Game 2, Fenwick played well. Trailing the RedHawks 2-0, the Friars scored three runs in the third to briefly hold the lead. Leadoff hitter Jenna Cairo opened the Friars' half of the third inning with a standup double. Mrozek smacked another double to score Cairo. Ashley Parenti followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Perrelli and Michelle Lang came up with an RBI each to put the Friars up 3-2. From that point on, it was all Marist, which finished with a total of 23 runs and 27 hits on the day.
In a pair of games against Benet last week, the Friars were shut out twice, 10-0 and 7-0.
Fenwick is 8-10 with a 2-8 mark in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference. While the team's record is far from ideal, the players and Marrese feel confident the Friars are capable of another run reminiscent of last year, which included regional and sectional championships and a supersectional appearance.
"We're definitely capable of going even further this year," said Cairo, who will play at Lewis University next season. "We just want to keep improving each year. Last season, we advanced to a supersectional. I believe we can go deep into the playoffs again and even win state."
Perrelli, who served as the Friars' ace during their inspired run in the 2013 playoffs, also believes the team is capable of another late season push.
"Last season was one of the greatest experiences of my life," she said. "We have all the ability in the world, but we have to be on our game and focused every single pitch."
Much of the squad's confidence stems from the eternally optimistic Marrese and a solid nucleus of players, including Perrelli, Parenti, Cairo, Mrozek and Maggie Horn. Unfortunately, Horn played the last game of her high school career Saturday as she will have reconstructive knee surgery.
"Maggie has been an inspiration with her positive attitude and the way she's battled through injury," Marrese said. "Girls like Maggie, as well as Perrelli, Parenti, Cairo and Mrozek, set the example for our other players. They all work hard every day."
With 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Friars have time to hit their stride.
"Just like last year, we hope to string together some wins in May, get hot and make a deep run in the playoffs," Marrese said. "I know we have the talent to reach our goals."