Grace Tucek is Fenwick High School’s best pitcher.

The Riverside resident has been the winning thrower in 10 of the softball team’s 18 victories, has the Friars’ lowest ERA at 2.72 (along with a 1.31 WHIP for you analytics people) and was named an all-conference pitcher in 2016.

Oh, and she can swing the bat, too. Tucek hit .337 with a .422 slugging percentage for Fenwick this year. Not bad for a pitcher.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

In fact, if Tucek had her way when she graduated from Hauser Jr. High in 2013, she’d be one of Riverside-Brookfield High School’s most recent graduates.

“To be honest, my parents chose Fenwick for me, and at first, I was so mad,” Tucek said between chuckles. “But luckily I came around and saw how great of a school Fenwick really is.”

It’s safe to say Fenwick got pretty lucky, too.

“Grace has been awesome for us ever since she came up to varsity full-time as a sophomore,” Fenwick coach Mike Marrese said, “and we love having her because she cares so deeply about the team and the sport itself.”

Tucek’s passion for softball started with Riverside Little League tee-ball and progressed every summer after. By seventh grade, she began playing travel ball with the LT Blazers.

“Softball has just always excited me – being out there (on the field) is the best feeling. I can’t think of something better,” Tucek said.

Tucek kept perfecting her craft playing travel ball and by spring of her freshman year she was the best pitcher on Fenwick’s JV team. Just as she was beginning to find her groove, something happened.

“One of the varsity players got hurt and then the next thing I know, Coach Marrese is calling me up to play varsity,” Tucek said. “I was terrified.”

For the first time in a while, she was watching games from the dugout.

“It was definitely a humbling experience,” Tucek said. “I had always been a starter on the teams I played on and was the JV ace when I got to Fenwick, so it was different for me.”

However, the time Tucek spent watching the games and learning how varsity softball worked allowed her to refine her technique. When her sophomore season began, she was one of the Friars’ best hurlers.

“When Grace started her second year, she had all of the pitches, control and discipline a varsity pitcher needs, which is really rare for someone that age,” Marrese said.

Tucek continued to work on her game and when her junior season ended, she was named an all-conference pitcher after leading the Friars with 122 strikeouts in 120 innings while tallying 11 wins.

“I’m really glad I stuck with it (softball),” Tucek said. “Because a couple years ago when I was playing travel ball, I didn’t really know if I wanted to keep it up.”

At the time, Tucek played for the Indy Dreams and would have to make the six-hour round trip to Indianapolis for monthly practices. Her coach, Craig Bell, wanted his players to be constantly working on their games back home because of the few practice opportunities.

It all seemed like too much.

“All the hours you have to put in just kind of drag on you, and you’re sitting in the car for all those hours just thinking, ‘is it worth it?'” Tucek said. “But Coach Bell has been one of the most influential people in my softball career – he pushed me to be the best I could be.”

When this season ends, Tucek’s softball career will most likely end, too. She decided not to continue playing in college and will be attending Clemson University this fall. Although her major is undecided, she thinks she’d like to study political science; but both her major and softball decision are subject to change.

“I’m not sure if I made the right decision to stop playing, but if I ever get the itch to play again Clemson has a club team,” Tucek said.

“It’s very refreshing to see someone that passionate about the game,” Marrese said about Tucek.

If she brings the same passion she has for softball to her future at Clemson and beyond, she’ll be able to knock any challenge she meets out of the park.

Editor’s Note: Fenwick takes on Montini Wednesday, May 31at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the St. Francis Sectional. The host Spartans face Glenbard South Tuesday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m. in the other semifinal. The winners will meet Saturday, June 3 at 11 a.m. in the sectional title game.