Fenwick third baseman/outfielder hit .316 with 4 home runs and 20 RBIs last season. She's committed to Eastern Michigan University. (Submitted photo)

A strong returning group of players augmented by the influx of five promising sophomores elicits optimism among Fenwick High School softball players this season even though graduates Grace Tucek, Giselle Diaz and Natalie Cairo will be missed.

“I couldn’t ask for three better athletes with such a passion for the game,” Fenwick coach Mike Marrese said. “Whether it was practice or a game, our three senior leaders came out every day wanting to work hard and do well. The other players fed off that energy.”

Nevertheless, the Friars welcome back enough talent to remain competitive.

Senior catcher Kayley Sherwood (.348 batting average, 4 HR, 18 RBI) and junior third baseman/outfielder Rachel Martinez (.316 avg., 4 HR, 20 RBI) lead the team offensively. Juniors Alyssa Stramaglia (.415 avg., .500 on-base percentage, .638 slugging percentage) and Cassandra Lee (16 RBI, 27 runs) are other key contributors. Stramaglia and Lee also anchor the pitching rotation.

Along with Diaz and Cairo, Stramaglia earned all-conference honors in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference last year.

The top newcomers are all sophomores. Shortstop Elena Vaccaro; infielder/outfielder Ciara Herbert, outfielder/catcher; Tess LoGuidice, second baseman/outfielder; Ava Vaccaro; and utility player/pitcher Andrea Fuentes allow Marrese some fresh options across the diamond.

“We have solid defense and pitching,” he said. “We also have good contact hitters, one through nine, in our lineup. Our short game needs improvement.”

Competing in the rugged GCAC, Fenwick will face very good teams like Bishop McNamara, Providence, Mother McAuley, Montini and Loyola.

In addition to competing in the GCAC’s toughest division, the Friars have a bevy of excellent teams on the nonconference portion of their schedule. Class 4A two-time state champion OPRF, Class 3A fourth-place finisher Nazareth, Glenbard South, St. Viator, Carmel, York, Benet and Whitney Young all present a challenge.

Marrese is more focused on his own team.

“We will have great leadership from our seniors this year,” he said. “Our focus is to put the team above everything else and work hard to improve each and every day.”

Entering his ninth season at Fenwick overall and sixth as the head coach, Marrese has guided the Friars to regional championships in 2013, 2014 and 2017, plus a sectional title and supersectional appearance (both in 2013).

“My goals never change,” Marrese said. “We strive to win our conference and a state championship every season.”

Fenwick softball scouting report

Fenwick Friars

Head coach: Mike Marrese (9th season at Fenwick)

Record last year: 18-13-1 (4-8-1 in GCAC); Lost to Montini in the St. Francis Sectional semifinals.

Top players: Alyssa Stramaglia, P, Jr.; Cassandra Lee, P, Jr.; Kayley Sherwood, C, Sr.; Rachel Martinez, 3B/OF, Jr.

Outlook: Stramaglia and Lee should stabilize the pitching rotation and the defense looks solid on paper. If the Friars can generate consistent offense, a solid showing in the GCAC and playoffs appears possible despite a difficult schedule.

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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...