By Dave Stewart
MONROE, Conn. - Rachele Fico’s first day as a senior at Masuk High School didn’t seem all that different for the Panthers’ best-known scholar-athlete, but there was something missing as she walked the halls last week.
“I go into school and I look around to see all the upper classmen and they’re not there,” Fico said. “I guess I’m one of them now, but it hasn’t really hit me yet. I still don’t feel like a senior.”
That feeling probably isn’t mutual among Masuk’s SWC softball opponents, who, after four years of facing the ace pitcher, would likely pay for her plane tickets when she heads to Louisiana State University in the fall of 2009.
Fico’s status as a Connecticut sporting legend has already been solidified with a record of 79-2, 1,387 strikeouts and a 0.07 ERA in 81 games. Fico has thrown 35 career no-hitters and 16 perfect games, including a streak of five perfectas last spring. She also had 21 straight shutouts and 224 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run that season.
Fico has been named to the All-State team in each of her first three seasons at Masuk, was the Class LL tournament MVP as a sophomore and junior and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2008. She was also named to the Lousiville Slugger/NFCA High School All-American first team and was an EA Sports All-American this year.
Fico’s Panthers have won three consecutive SWC titles and two Class LL championships under head coach Jacqui Sheftz, and with those kinds of numbers come the high expectations of continued success. Even so, Fico isn’t jumping the gun.
“I never look too far ahead, but I’m hoping we can do well again this year,” Fico said. “Our high school team has awesome chemistry, so it’s so much fun to be able to play with them. We’re starting up our fall ball season really soon and it’s going to be good to see some of the young, new faces coming in to the team.”
Fico wrapped up a eye-popping summer of softball in August, when she helped the Gold Coast Hurricanes win a National championship. She also played with the Brakettes and even pitched against the United States Olympic Team in July.
Putting on a Brakettes uniform was a big step for Fico, who was hailed as “the most celebrated high school softball player to join the Brakettes since Joan Joyce debuted in 1957,” on the team’s Web site. Fico was the lone high schooler on the team, played in four games and pitched 19.2 innings, allowing just two earned runs for a 0.71 ERA. She struck out 38 and walked five while going 3-0.
“I’ve grown up watching them play,” Fico said. “They knew I was playing with the Hurricanes and it just kind of worked out that whenever I was home, I’d go and play a few games with them. It was an awesome experience being able to play on a team like that. It was really an honor. It was just so much fun being able to play at that level with the quality of players that they have on that team.”
She also had the opportunity to play with future teammate Jessica Mouse, a sophomore third baseman/catcher at LSU.
“It’s just a little bit of a taste of what it’s going to be like in college for me,” Fico said. “So I was really excited about being able to play with her this summer.
“All the girls were so nice and welcoming. Even though it was the Brakettes and it was a different level, I just felt comfortable. It was like I had been on that team for a long time.”
In July, Deluca Field became the center of the National softball universe when the Brakettes hosted Team USA during its Road to Beijing tour. Team USA provided quite a show, winning 9-0, and Fico pitched one inning.
“That was a huge deal,” Fico said. “I was so excited to have the opportunity to play against the Olympic team. The atmosphere was incredible and the fans were great. The whole place was swarming with the fans.”
In August, Fico traveled to Oklahoma City, Okla., with the Gold Coast Hurricanes of Florida to take part in the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) 18 and under Gold National Tournament.
Fico and No. 1 starter Stephanie Brombacher, a freshman who went 20-0 at the University of Florida last spring, combined for five shutouts and allowed just two runs in the first five games of the tournament, as the Hurricanes reached the final against the Corona Angels-Tyson.
Brombacher started the title game, but was roughed up in the fourth inning, when Corona scored four runs to take a 5-4 lead. Fico came on in relief and allowed one inherited runner to score, but was untouched the rest of the way, going three and one-third innings and allowing just one hit and no walks with two strikeouts.
The Hurricanes tied the game in the bottom of the fourth and scored the game-winning run in the seventh when Kelly Horton doubled leading off, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a fielder’s choice by Kelley Smiley. Fico got the win as the Hurricanes secured the title with a 6-5 decision.
“Playing with the Gold Coast Hurricanes was a big help in preparing me for what I’m going to be facing in college because all the teams we were playing against are going to be the future college athletes at rival schools,” Fico said. “It was an awesome summer playing against some of the best competition. That’s the first time I’ve experience that level of play.”
Fico managed to step back from the softball diamond for a much-deserved break after the National tournament, as she vacationed in Mexico in August and stopped pitching for a few weeks. She’s never too far removed from the sport, however, and will soon start playing fall ball with her high school teammates.
Even after a high-powered summer of softball, it’s still her teammates with the Panthers who are closest to Fico’s heart.
“I’m just excited to get back to that family atmosphere that we have with the high school team,” she said. “It’s been some of the greatest times of life playing with that team.”
Dave Stewart, the Sports Editor of the New Canaan (Conn.) Advertiser, is a MaxPreps.com writer and photographer. He may be reached at 203-966-9541 or at firstname.lastname@example.org