Hitting Lilly Fecho is hard enough.
Coaxing the Glenbard North senior to brag on herself? Now that is a chore in its own right.
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The consummate team player, Fecho will spin as skillfully as her best curveball any inquiry about individual achievement into a reflection on the group's accomplishment. There isn't a bragging bone in that 6-foot tall body.
"The game is not only about the one person," Fecho reasons.
All modesty aside, any conversation about Glenbard North softball this spring must begin and end with Lilly Fecho.
No area player meant more to her team.
On the short list of the most dominant pitchers in the state, the senior lefty committed to Purdue went 27-3 with a 0.88 ERA and struck out an area-best 254 batters in 192 innings. She threw 13 shutouts and five no-hitters. Not only that, but Fecho was the Panthers' best hitter, leading their starting lineup with a .393 average, 8 homers and 33 runs batted in with 10 doubles.
In one game against defending conference champ West Chicago, Fecho threw a 1-hitter and homered for the game's only run.
"A lot of games Lilly flat-out won all by herself," Glenbard North coach Josh Sanew said. "All she cared about was that the team won."
It all added up to a 34-3 record -- the second-most wins in program history -- a DuPage Valley Conference championship and Glenbard North's deepest playoff run since 2007. Fecho, named the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year this week, is the 2012 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area softball captain. Fecho is the fourth Panthers player to receive the honor, joining Lindsey Veselsky (2002), Michelle Batts (2007) and Hannah Santora (2009).
Taking it to another level
Like Mannings make quarterbacks, the Fecho DNA had Lilly destined for the mound.
Lilly's dad, Rob Fecho, pitched collegiately at Missouri and in the Kansas City Royals minor-league organization. Her mom was a high school pitcher at south suburban Stagg. Lilly dabbled in basketball and soccer growing up but always enjoyed softball most.
Sanew knew he had a pitcher with potential on his hands since Day One freshman year. He thought maybe Fecho could develop into a pitcher in the mold of ex-West Aurora standout Stephanie Becker, another tall lefty.
Fecho assumed the ace role when Santora graduated, winning 17 games as a sophomore. Last year she went 16-5 with a 1.11 ERA.
This year, though, Fecho took it to a whole new level. Fecho struck out 62 more batters in less innings, living up to Sanew's nickname of "Lights-Out Lilly."
"She came in attacking and throwing so hard, and kids were intimidated," Sanew said. "She was able to get strikeouts in big situations. She might have even exceeded the potential we thought she had."
The genesis of Fecho's ascent as a pitcher and player came on a plane ride back from California last summer. Fecho was out west with the Illinois Chill playing in the Premier Girls Fastpitch national tournament.
"We did OK," Rob Fecho said, "but on the plane we were thinking about what she needed to do, asking what her goals were, and Lilly said, 'I want to hit, throw and help my team better.' And I told her this is what you need to do."
Fecho set out to working on her game.
Sanew remembers day after day in the fall, peeking out the school window to see Fecho alone on the Glenbard North softball field hitting off the tee or throwing to her catcher.
"It's just loving the game and finding the time to work on things," Fecho said.
Fecho can bring the heat north of 60 mph and always had good location, but perhaps the biggest addition to her repertoire is the development and command of the changeup. A new grip that she started toying with in the fall allowed her to throw the change with slower speed.
The new and improved Fecho seemed to get stronger as games progressed, which created an unsettling feeling in opposing dugouts.
"Her presence, her talent, the general atmosphere she created was very intimidating," Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. "If you were down 1-0 to her, it might as well have been 10-0. And if that wasn't enough to worry about, then you had to worry about her at the plate."
Fecho's improvement at the plate may have been more dramatic, from a so-so bat as a junior to becoming Glenbard North's best hitter this spring.
"It's just practice, breaking it down to the fundamentals," Fecho said. "I focused more on keeping my shoulder in and driving the bat through the zone."
A heads-up, humble talent
Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora won't miss facing Fecho, but he has the ultimate respect for the competitor in her. Kedziora's Huskies had a rally going against Fecho in a game this spring. The situation heightened when a batter was hit in the helmet by a Fecho pitch on a bunt attempt.
Always alert, Fecho motioned to the umpire that the batter didn't bring her bat back. The hit by pitch call was over-ruled, the batter struck out and the rally was foiled.
"She's such a heads-up player," Kedziora said. "One thing I noticed is she became a leader for that team. I don't know what she was saying, but their other kids seemed to respond."
Fecho was a fourth-year varsity player throwing in front of an all-sophomore and freshman infield, but she didn't exactly lord that seniority over on the younger girls. Far from it. Fecho was the first to chase down fouls balls or keep the book. With a comical side to her busting out on the team bus, Fecho's contagious attitude helped keep the team loose.
"She's a kid that gets it," Sanew said. "She's smart in the classroom, and there's more to her than the game. She is all about making the team better in any way possible. That is really what separates the good player from the great player."
Fecho, who scored a 32 on her ACT and carried a 5.4 GPA at Glenbard North, will study engineering next year at Purdue in addition to playing softball. Sanew feels fortunate to have coached her for four years.
"She represents her school in the best possible way in everything she does," he said. "She's a special kid. I feel like it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to coach a kid that well-rounded."