Attend a Fenwick High School girls softball game and you’ll likely find head coach Mike Marrese perpetually shouting words of encouragement to his players regardless of score, situation or opponent. His coaching style is about as optimistic as it gets. This spring, the third-year head coach of the Friars justifiably has a lot to be excited about this season.

Although Fenwick graduated Jenna Cairo (Lewis University], Ashley Parenti (Loyola University-Chicago) and Jessica Mrozek (James Madison), who are all playing college softball, Marrese welcomes back a talented mix of veterans and newcomers.

Senior Valerie Perrelli leads the pitching staff this spring. Although her 13-11 record last spring may not jump off the page, she is an excellent pitcher who also triggered the Friars’ magical run in 2013 to a sectional championship. She’s a solid first baseman who hit .318 with a .371 on-base percentage and .449 slugging percentage last season.

The Friars will also be strong up the middle of the infield with sophomore shortstop Giselle Diaz and sophomore second baseman Natalie Cairo. Diaz batted .304 with an on-base percentage of .360 last spring, while Cairo hit .234 with a .372 slugging percentage. Both middle infielders are plus defenders. Senior third baseman/outfielder Genesis Fuentes is another returning starter.

“Valerie will be our ace on the mound,” Marrese said. “Genesis, Giselle and Natalie give us strength defensively around the infield. All four players can hit for power and are great team leaders.”

Junior Brianna McCormick, sophomore Grace Tucek and freshman Kayley Sherwood are expected to contribute as well this spring. McCormick is a pitcher and first baseman, while Tucek is a utility player and Sherwood a promising catcher.

“Brianna and Grace will give us a lot of quality innings on the mound,” Marrese said. “Kayley keeps us strong at the catcher position and she can hit for power.”

Marrese is also high on junior outfielder/catcher Bri Keys and junior third baseman/outfielder Amanda Lopez.

“We will be strong defensively at all nine positions,” Marrese said. “We have three solid pitchers who will each give us quality innings. I don’t think we have an easy out in our lineup. We need to improve our short game on offense, but we’ll be aggressive. I think we’ll be very strong defensively.”

The Friars will need to flourish in several aspects of the game if they expect to contend in the rough and tumble East Suburban Catholic Conference. Per usual, the league is loaded with excellent teams which could contend for the state championship.

Fenwick will join the GCAC next season.

“Benet, Marist, Providence and Bishop Mac are top contenders,” Marrese said. “Every team in this conference is a tough opponent. Our schedule continues to be difficult, whether it’s in conference or our nonconference games.

“The majority of our nonconference games are against teams in the GCAC (Girls Catholic Athletic Conference). I don’t look at any game as being more important than any other. They are all big matchups.”

Fenwick softball scouting report

Fenwick softball scouting report

Head coach: Mike Marrese (3rd season, 2014 regional championship; 2013 regional/sectional titles)

Team record last season: 18-17, 6-12 in East Suburban Catholic (7th place), lost x-x to OPRF in sectional semifinal) in Class 4A sectional semifinal

Key returners: Seniors Valerie Perrelli (P-1B), Genesis Fuentes (3B-OF) and sophomores Giselle Diaz (SS) and Natalie Cairo (2B-OF)

Newcomers to watch: Junior Brianna McCormick (P/1B) and Amanda Lopez (3B-OF), sophomore Grace Tucek (P-IF-OF), freshman Kayley Sherwood (C-IF)

Quote: “My two goals are the same every year- win conference and win state.” – Fenwick softball coach Mike Marrese

Outlook: Fenwick never puts too much emphasis on its record during the regular season, especially playing in the ESCC. The Friars’ priority is to take on tough competition so they’re playing well once the playoffs roll around. Two seasons ago, that strategy paid off with an inspired run to the supersectionals. This season, anything is possible.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...