Fenwick senior pitcher Grace Tucek winds up to throw a pitch, with first baseman Alyssa Stramaglia and third baseman Rachel Martinez at the ready defensively. (Submitted photo)

Defense wins championships.

The Fenwick High School softball team was reminded of that sports saying during a 5-3 loss against Montini in the St. Francis Sectional final on May 31.

Locked in a 1-1 tie with Montini midway through the game, the Friars’ defense let them down in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Broncos scored three runs, two courtesy of Fenwick errors, to seize a 4-1 lead.

In the top of the fifth, the Friars responded with consecutive run-scoring doubles by Alyssa Stramaglia and Kayley Sherwood to draw Fenwick within a run at 4-3. Promising freshman Ciara Herbert led off the inning with a single.

Montini added insurance on a home run in the sixth to secure the victory.

After the game, Fenwick coach Mike Marrese couldn’t help but fixate on the Friars’ defensive mistakes.

“I always tell the kids there is the regular season and the postseason,” Marrese said. “To be successful, particularly in the playoffs, you have to play a complete defensive game. When I say a complete defensive game, I’m referring to making the plays you should make.

“We made a couple of errors in one inning that allowed Montini to score three runs. We always play them tough and the postseason is no different.”

The Broncos actually gained a measure of revenge. In 2013, Fenwick upset top-seeded Montini in a sectional semifinal en route to a supersectional appearance. That season marked Marrese’s best work since taking over the program. Under his watch, the Friars have won three regional titles (2013, 2014, 2017).

Despite the missed opportunity against Montini, Fenwick had another solid season. After a 5-8-1 start, the Friars rebounded well with 13 wins in 18 games to finish 18-13-1, earning a three seed in the St. Francis Sectional.

The Friars also took their own regional championship in comfortable fashion. Fenwick won via forfeit in the semifinals against (Chicago) Golder and then routed (Chicago) Muchin 15-0 in a three-inning final.

Natalie Cairo went 3-for-3 with two home runs, four RBIs, three runs scored and 10 total bases in the regional final. Sherwood had a home run, two hits and three RBIs against Muchin. The Friars had 14 hits in 21 at-bats and amassed 29 total bases. Senior Grace Tucek, who will attend Clemson in the fall, pitched a perfect game and struck out six of the nine batters she faced.

“I know some people said we got a forfeit win and then won a regional championship against a weaker opponent,” Marrese said. “I tell everyone we don’t make the schedule and the seedings are done by the other teams in the sectional. It’s out of our control who we play. I’m proud of our team for winning a home regional and putting up a good fight against Montini in a game that could have gone either way.”

Throughout the season, seniors Grace Tucek, Giselle Diaz and Cairo provided leadership and talent for the relatively young Friars.

“I couldn’t ask for three better athletes with such a passion for the game,” 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.”

With the return of talented young players like Stramaglia, Rachel Martinez, Cassandra Lee, Elena Vaccaro and Herbert, Fenwick should remain competitive.

Stramaglia, Diaz and Cairo earned all-conference honors in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference (GCAC) this year.

“We have two outstanding pitchers coming back in Alyssa (Stramaglia) and Cassandra (Lee),” Marrese said. “They will be back next season along with one of our junior varsity pitchers who could get called up.”