Sentinel sisters

Sen­tinels Ave Bolli, Francesca Fail­lace and Kel­sey Mc­Donough were se­lec­ted to rep­res­ent the Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League dur­ing this year’s Car­penter Cup.

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.mor­

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