At Little Flower, the future is now

Makenzie Paxson was the opening-day starter for Little Flower. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

Mark Fusetti didn’t want to rebuild.

He wanted to win.

So when he took over as head coach of the Little Flower High School softball team, his intention wasn’t to go young. He wanted to put the best players on the field, and he didn’t care what grade they were in.

“I told the girls the first day that we were going to play the girls who deserve to play,” Fusetti said. “They had to go out and earn the position. I really didn’t know who was going to get the jobs, I just wanted them to go out and compete. They had to earn it.”

The fact that three of the nine starters for the Sentinels in the early going are freshmen doesn’t just mean good things for this year, it means good things for the next four seasons.

Little Flower isn’t a young team.

They’re a young, talented team.

And while they’re freshmen, not everybody is a new face.

Courtney Sherwood will start at third base for Little Flower. BILL ACHUFF / TIMES PHOTO

Courtney Sherwood is the squad’s starting shortstop, and while she has never played high school softball before this spring, she has been to just about every Little Flower game for the past four years.

Her sister, Tori, was one of the top hitters in the Catholic League, and one of her biggest supporters was her little sister.

Now that Tori is at St. Thomas Aquinas in New York, Courtney has stepped into the Little Flower lineup and is contributing right away.

“I knew I wanted to go to Little Flower, and I knew I wanted to play here,” Sherwood said. “I didn’t know if I would make the varsity team, but I knew I wanted to play. I liked everything about it when I was watching my sister.”

While Tori knew all about Sentinel softball, Makenzie Paxson didn’t have as much experience with the team.

She visited the school last year, and she quickly fell in love with it. The softball team was also an instant love for Paxson, and it didn’t take her long to make an impact.

Paxson got the ball in the Sentinels’ first game of the year, and she pitched well, keeping Archbishop Wood off balance. The Vikings went on to win 5–3, but Paxson more than held her own in her varsity debut.

“I found out I was pitching a few days before the game and I was really excited,” the Tacony resident said. “I didn’t expect to start right away. I thought I would make the team, but I didn’t think I’d start varsity.”

Along with Ginny Britto, Sherwood and Paxson represent a nucleus that could be with the team for years. But this year, they’re getting acclimated to the speed of high school softball.

Thus far, it hasn’t been a problem.

“I play club softball (in Newtown), so I was ready to play, but I was still nervous,” said Paxson, who celebrated her 15th birthday last week. “But it went really well. It was fun because I had a lot of help. The other players are very welcoming.”

That has been a huge help.

The older players on the team have gone out of their way to make sure the younger players learn all the tricks of the trade.

“It’s all about the team,” Sherwood said. “We want to win as a team. It means a lot that the older girls help us. I knew a lot of them from when I would see them last year. Now it’s fun to be their teammate.”

Fusetti is confident his team can be competitive this year.

It helps that the freshmen have blended in well with the veterans.

But if the team fails to win a Catholic League championship, and the seniors on this year’s squad graduate without hoisting the plaque, that doesn’t mean they can’t eventually be part of a championship team.

Fusetti knows the youngsters on this year’s team have a chance to be part of something special for years to come, and the foundation is being put in place this year.

“The seniors have been great about helping the younger girls,” Fusetti said. “They’ve been very good about helping, and they are the reason we’re able to compete with younger players.

“The freshmen are very talented, but you need good leaders. You need someone to show them the way. And they’re doing that. They’re being great teammates, and what they’re doing this year will not just help us this year, but it’ll help us next year and the year after that and the year after that.”

But the freshmen aren’t waiting to win.

They want to win this year, just like the seniors.

“We want to win with the seniors because they deserve it,” Sherwood said. “It’s nice to think that we’ll be able to win for four years, but this year is the seniors’ year and we want them to have a good (final) year.”