Moments after Fenwick edged Montini 4-3 in Saturday’s Class 3A Fenwick Sectional final, the Friars’ head coach Dave Hogan rushed the field, let out a smile and asked rhetorically aloud, “how did we get here?”
It’s a fair question considering the Friars endured a 10-game losing streak in April and finished 16-19 during the regular season. After a promising 6-3 start including a solid 3-3 showing at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, the sectional champs inexplicably lost 10 in a row.
Fresh off their visit to the Magic Kingdom, the Friars simply started making (pardon the pun) goofy mistakes on the baseball field.
The losing streak was the worst during Hogan’s 36-year career at Fenwick.
“I don’t know if it was a learning curve but we just had way too many holes in the dam,” Hogan said. “We were walking too many hitters, hitting batters, making too many errors and striking out too much in our at-bats.
“It’s like we lost the ability to play baseball because we didn’t want to make mistakes. And bad baseball can be contagious. There was no flow.”
The turnaround started in late April/early May.
Sophomores like Jack Grace, Alex Pup and Mike Cerceo provided an infusion of young talent and energy. Grace is a power-hitting first baseman with great promise, while Pup is a versatile infielder with a good bat as well.
Behind the plate, Cerceo has shown rapid development with excellent defensive skills and good instincts for the game. In two regional games, he threw out all five base runners who attempted steals.
“Big plays are great but the little things mean the most,” Cerceo said. “Playing fundamental baseball grows confidence and leads to wins.”
Center fielder Casey O’Laughlin, who verbally committed to Northwestern, pitcher/outfielder Jay Militello and shortstop Anthony Cavalieri have brought both production and leadership to the Friars’ improved brand of baseball.
Sherman Martin, Jack Hendricks and Harrison Hayes (among others) also have contributed.
The pitching staff has settled down.
Most importantly, baseball has become fun again around Priory Park.
In fairness to the Friars, their losing streak included several games against elite Chicago Catholic League teams like Providence, Brother Rice and St. Rita.
“We call it our hell week,” Fenwick pitcher Paddy Dwyer said. “We were playing some of the top teams in Illinois. After the slump, we started playing better baseball and gaining confidence.
“We’ve been winning games in the playoffs, which we knew we could do.”
In their four postseason wins, the Friars have outscored their opponents 26-6.
During Saturday’s sectional final victory, Dwyer and Marty Stein pitched effectively in relief of Militello, who also threw well with five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. The left-handed Dwyer retired seven batters in a row to close out the game.
Trailing Montini 3-2 in the sixth, Hayes singled to trigger the Friars’ rally. Cerceo laid down a sacrifice bunt and Mike Fiorito cracked a single to left putting runners on the corners. After Hendricks struck out, Cavalieri hit a grounder deep in the hole to the Broncos’ shortstop. His errant throw allowed Cavalieri to reach first base safely and two runs to score giving Fenwick the lead for good at 4-3.
“(Montini pitcher Alex Luka) threw me a curveball on a 3-2 count and I stayed back on it,” Cavalieri said. “I just wanted to make contact and I hit one in the hole. I had to beat it out and the kid made a bad throw.
“Nothing matters until you hit the playoffs. We’re coming together and playing really good baseball.”
Unfortunately, Fenwick lost to St. Viator 12-4 in the 3A North Central College Supersectional to finish 20-20 this spring.
While that record suggests mediocrity, the Friars were anything but ordinary; instead, producing one of the best high school baseball stories this spring.