Sentinel sisters

The Archbishop Carroll High School softball team won 14 games this season, and all but four were via the blowout. However, all the way back on April 7, Carroll played one of its toughest contests of the year: a 2–1 nail-biting victory over Little Flower.

Carroll boss Mark Caserta is well aware of Little Flower’s talents on the softball field, which is why he’s delighted to be coaching three Sentinel players… at least for this week.

Caserta is the Philadelphia Catholic League’s head coach in the seventh annual Carpenter Cup Classic, which — like its baseball counterpart — is an all-star tournament that showcases the Delaware Valley’s finest talent in the sport.

On Monday, Caserta’s squad earned a doubleheader split — one win, one loss — which allowed the Catholic League to advance and play Chester County on Wednesday morning. That game was played after the Times went to press this week.

No matter how far the Catholic League advances in the Carpenter Cup, however, they have already experienced a plethora of fun. And right in the middle of the action has been Little Flower juniors Francesca Faillace, Kelsey McDonough and Ave Bolli. The trio of Sentinels combined to go 3-for-6 with two RBI and two runs scored in a 9–2 opening-round victory over Delaware North on Monday morning. The Catholic League lost its second game of the day to Suburban One League American & Continental, 5–1, but earned the right to play later in the week based on the Delaware North win.

“Those three kids… man, are they good,” Caserta said of the three Little Flower players. “Francesca hit the ball really hard. Ave helped get us a run on a suicide squeeze play and Kelsey did a nice job defensively over at first base. We wouldn’t still be playing without those girls.”

For their part, Faillace, Bolli and McDonough all said they were honored just to make the team, which is full of their Catholic League rivals. However, the Carpenter Cup allows enemies to quickly become friends, and despite practicing only once as a team before Monday, the Catholic League didn’t miss a beat.

“It felt really good to get recognized for the right reasons,” said Faillace, who entered the game as a reserve left-fielder and delivered a single and two-run double. “We work our butts off all year, so it’s nice to see that people notice when we do good. Just playing with all of these girls was such a rush. Playing with the best and against the best… to be a part of that is just incredible.”

As for sharing a dugout with their usual opponents, well, that admittedly took some getting used to.

“It was definitely a challenge at first,” said McDonough, who qualified for her first Carpenter Cup after trying out for last year’s team as a sophomore. “Our biggest rival is St. Hubert’s, so being on the same team with them was a little strange; and the Carroll girls I didn’t like too much when we played against them, but now I can say how fun it is. You’re from different places, but you get to know new girls, see where they come from and enjoy it.”

The Catholic League has never won a Carpenter Cup in softball, and with one loss already in tow, they remain long shots to win it this year. However, regardless of the outcome, the three Little Flower players are using their selections as a learning experience.

The Sentinels struggled through an uneven season, finishing 7–8 overall this spring. There were ups (a three-game midseason win streak in which they piled up 32 runs) to go along with downs (early-season struggles paired with later losses to area rivals Hubert’s and Archbishop Ryan). All three players concurred that getting to play extra softball in June would be a motivator heading into next season, their senior campaign. They also hope to avoid a case of “senior-itis,” which plagued the few seniors on this year’s team, sometimes leaving them distracted and disinterested.

“Seniors have a tendency to slack off late in the year with college around the corner,” said Little Flower coach John Strunk. “But these three girls are really dedicated, and they carried us as leaders this season, so I know they’ll mature even more next year. They play all-out all of the time, and they’ve been a big help to me as a coach. I’m very proud of all of them.”

Added Bolli: “Kelsey and I will be captains next year, and we expect the seniors to carry the team. We’ll all be more involved and aggressive. Sometimes we weren’t intense enough this season, but we’ll stay on task. We all know we can do it.”

Part of what makes Faillace, Bolli and McDonough so motivated to leave Little Flower on a high note is their eagerness to leave their own positive legacy on a school rich in athletic tradition. Each girl referred to the other two in separate conversations as “best friends.” Playing in the Carpenter Cup has only strengthened that bond.

“We’ve been best friends since we were ten years old,” Bolli said. “I know they’ll be by my side no matter what, and they’ll pick me up if I make a mistake out there. Being able to fail around your teammates is a secure feeling, and it makes me a better player.”

“Being side-by-side with your friends at the Carpenter Cup… not a bad feeling,” Faillace concurred.

Participating in the prestigious showcase tournament has only made Faillace, McDonough and Bolli closer, and all three admitted that it’s already been the experience of a lifetime after just one win. While the trio said that the top objective of the Carpenter Cup is to have fun, they wouldn’t mind winning a lot more together in the tournament and beyond into the 2012 season.

“For me, I’d say it’s fifty-fifty,” Bolli said. “Of course we’re here to have fun. After a long season I think we deserve that much. But hey, winning is fun, too. Who doesn’t like to win?” ••

Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.morrone@gmail.com