The high school sports rivalry between Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest is the marquee matchup in town. However, the Friars' athletic battles with neighboring Trinity are often comparably intense, perhaps even more given the teams' common conference affiliation in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference.
In the latest installment of the rivalry, the Friars earned a 9-3 comeback win against Trinity at Triton College on April 25. Trailing 3-0, the Fenwick responded with excellent defense, pitching and hitting to score nine unanswered runs en route to victory.
"It took a full team effort to come from behind, take and the lead, and then add on to it," Fenwick coach Sarah James said. "In our six losses, the mindset was to play not to lose which just doesn't work. We needed to turn that (mindset) into play to win. We had an opportunity to play under pressure and responded well."
Fenwick senior pitcher Cassy Lee added: "Trinity has always been one of our biggest rivals and toughest competitors so we are always hyped to play against them. Trinity started off very strong, but we were ultimately able to come back and work together as a team to score runs for the win."
Fenwick third baseman Elena Vaccaro and shortstop Rachel Martinez turning in several defensive gems against the Blazers (9-10). During one notable play, Vaccaro made a diving stop to her left and then threw to first for an out, ending a Blazers' scoring opportunity with runners on second and third. Martinez, a University of Southern Indiana commit, flashed a reliable glove and made several diving plays to keep balls in the infield.
Trinity freshman Meagan Murphy (2-for-3, RBI) and senior Emely Martinez (2-for-4) hit well against the Friars.
On the season, Danielle Hoffman (.488 batting average), Nicole Romano (.423) and Bella Paravicini (.391) lead the Blazers in RBIs with 17 apiece. Hoffman has also shouldered most of the pitching load with a 5.40 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 67 innings. Jessica Hoffman, Trinity's other top pitcher, tore an ACL earlier this spring.
"Jessica's injury really put a lot of pressure on Danielle on the mound," Trinity coach Kelly Small said. "We have been plagued with injuries and a lack of hitting. We're sitting with a record of 500, but half of those losses could have been victories. I expect the team to continue to focus on defense development. If we can couple that with some good at-bats, we stand a chance to finish the season strong."
As for Fenwick, designated player Alex Medina and catcher Tess LoGuidice have contributed as well in recent games. Medina has created a lot of scoring opportunities with her slap-hitting style, while LoGuidice has been consistent behind the plate and at bat.
The pitching staff has also played a large role in the team's success this season. The rotation is led by strikeout pitchers Alyssa Stramaglia and Lee, which has created an interesting dilemma for James.
"Our pitching is fantastic," James said. "The only problem we have, which is something I'll take any day, is that we're getting too many strikeouts. It sounds crazy, but we're pitching too many pitches per batter to get the strikeouts. I would rather turn a few of those into groundouts or pop-ups. Our pitchers need to feel they can count on their defense to make those sure outs."
The Friars have also shown resiliency this spring by staying together during a brief slump.
"We hit a rough patch in the middle of the season, but we improved and worked our way up from there," Lee said. "One of our most prominent advantages on the field is our team chemistry. We are able to work together and have each other's back both on and off the field. We win and lose as a team."
Mental toughness has been a point of emphasis all spring.
"We need to improve our mindset during the games," Stramaglia said. "Being down in the beginning of the game often leads us to get down on ourselves. We need to keep the intensity from the start of the game to the very last out. I believe we have a very strong team though and if we put our minds in the game, we can beat mostly any team."
With the state playoffs drawing close, James believes the Friars' best softball is still to come.
"Overall, we're steadily increasing in skill, motivation, power and leadership," James said. "I want us to be peaking by the end of the regional and we need to be fully prepared for the sectionals.
"That means we're confident in the expectations on the field, hitting and base running. We need to know our plan and purely work to our strengths because there's no time to improve any weaknesses come postseason. Our goal is to score every inning and play to win. We're eager for competition and we will thrive when the pressure is on."
Fenwick (17-6) hosts Montini on Thursday, May 2. The game starts 5:30 p.m. at the Dominican Priory.