Looking back now, it’s almost inconceivable to think about what the Bishop Fenwick softball program was able to accomplish in the 1990s.
Between 1990 and 1996, the Crusaders won an unheard of seven straight Division 1 state titles and 40 consecutive playoff victories (a national record at the time). The program gained national recognition under its legendary head coach, the late Ed ‘Buddy’ Henry, and always seemed to find a way to win when it mattered most.
In the world of fantasy matchups, it would be unfair to pit any of our other local softball teams against the Brown and Gold.
So why not take the dynasty’s two bookend teams — the 1990 club and the 1996 squad — and see who would come out on top?
It would only be fitting that this mythical game would be played at Aprile Memorial Field, where so many of the Crusaders’ tournament games were played during the title years. Fenwick produced 21 straight wins at Aprile between 1990-96.
Lisa McGloin, Lynda Lipson, Gina Marcinkowski, Colleen Parker-Newbury, Mary Wells and Lorin Slade were just a few of the many phenomenal players that wore the Fenwick colors and learned under the tutelage of Henry, without question the state’s most successful softball coach ever. In his 15 years (1983-97) at Fenwick, the beloved coach guided his team to eight state championships (including one in 1985) and 15 straight Catholic Central League crowns.
Fenwick softball became synonymous with Henry’s name and vice versa. He didn’t just teach the girls softball; he taught them about life. It didn’t matter that practices were three hours long, for his players seemingly loved every minute of them. Henry bestowed a winning tradition on the girls and left a lasting impact on them.
Gina (Marcinkowski) Murphy, who was the winning pitcher in the 7-4 state title game against Agawam in 1990, still reflects upon what her late coach taught her over the years.
“I draw upon things I’ve learned from Mr. Henry in my work and family life all the time,” said Murphy in an interview before last year’s At Bat for Buddy tournament.
“I know that no matter what situation is thrown at me, I can handle it. It’s such a tribute to Mr. Henry that the championship streak lasted so long and shows that it was him, and his remarkable way of coaching, that was the formula, not one or several players.”
Beginning of the dynasty
Once Henry came aboard in 1983, the Fenwick express took off and won a Division 2 state crown two years later. By 1990, Fenwick wanted to reach the state’s softball pinnacle once again; they had already won seven straight league titles and made it to the North finals six times. The year prior they were abruptly bounced in the playoff quarterfinals by Revere, and Henry wanted to get back to that rarified air of the 1985 squad.
Fenwick graduated five seniors the previous year, including Lipson (“like losing Babe Ruth” Henry said prior to the 1990 season). That left three seniors (Michelle Carter-Donahue, Dawn Kawcynski and Marcinkowski) on the roster, while the were rest freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re young this year but talented,” Henry said in that same interview. “It’s a good blend of youth and experience. We’ll be a power to be reckoned with come tournament time. This team plays for June.”
It’s where Marcinkowski shined through. Voted most athletic in the class superlatives, she was a brilliant athlete who excelled in field hockey and basketball as well as softball and went to Stonehill College on a hoop scholarship. She slid into her role as the top pitcher that season, adding a no-hitter to her resume of accomplishments.
With Kawcynski sidelined with a rotator cuff injury, Carter-Donahue and Marcinkowski led the Crusaders as captains. Henry also started three freshmen: Kerri Lyman (third base), Melissa O’Shea (shortstop) and Kristy Murphy (center field). Lyman was an up-and-coming pitcher at the time and would go on to guide the Crusaders to three straight titles (1991-93), but at the time Marcinkowski Murphy was the main hurler.
“We kind of grew together as a group as the season went on,” said Carter-Donahue. “Come tournament time we really hit our stride. Everyone jelled; we worked hard and got the ultimate prize.”
The Crusaders suffered just one blemish on their record, an early season loss to Dracut, but went on to win 21 straight. Marcincowski may not have been the best the pitcher in the state that year, but she was the best pitcher throughout the state tournament.
Of course, most people probably remember the state semifinal game against Wellesley more than the championship contest over Agawam. Marcincowski went head-to-head with the perhaps the most talked about pitcher in Eastern Mass, Raiders’ superstar Lisa Moore.
Marcinkowski came out on top in a brilliant pitcher’s duel, 1-0, as Fenwick outscored its six tournament foes 45-16, including two Marcinkowski shutouts. Three players (Carter-Donahue, Kristen Daley and Marcinkowski) hit over .400 in the playoffs; Laura Carlson (.536 regular season batting average) and Katie Collins were also fierce at the plate; and overall, Fenwick was a team that would not be denied the title.
“I think we were decent hitters and had decent averages — consistent,” Carter-Donahue recalled. “I think our defense helped us propel through the tournament, too. Our defense was really good and helped us along.”
Six years later, Fenwick’s statewise dominance had long been established. The team expected nothing less than to keep their string of state titles intact; they went into that season with T-shirts made up that read ‘Lucky 7 in ‘96’.
A tremendous amount of confidence and experience — not to mention 34 straight tournament victories — followed them wherever the Crusaders went. They were masters of the diamond, experts on psyching out their opponents and virtually winning games before the first pitch had been thrown.
Other teams would fear when the Crusaders drove up in their bus; their ride was usually covered in streamers and the girls banging on the windows in hopes of giving their opponents a little taste of intimidation. Sometimes they even pretended to read newspapers on the bench while the other teams warmed up or were announced. It was all in an effort to get in the heads of their opponents, which more often than not worked.
Hypothetically speaking, Marcinkowski would be in a pitching duel with Shannon Lyman, the junior ace of the ‘96 squad. Lyman was 17 at the time when she won her second state championship.
“We would go into every game with a winning attitude,” explained Lyman, who resides in North Andover. “ We had a lot of confidence, but we weren’t cocky. We had a lot of team chemistry and held onto a lot of traditions, like hanging the banners on the bus or eating at the same restaurant before the state title game. We spent the entire spring together. There was never a moment we weren’t with each other.”
A master on the mound, Lyman went 14-2 in ‘96 and was a perfect 6-0 in tournament play. Having both caught and pitched growing up, Lyman was more a of an offspeed, accuracy pitcher.
She was the third Lyman sister to play her way into a title. Oldest sister Kerri won four straight crowns starting in 1990; then Kristi came aboard next and won four titles while serving as Shannon’s catcher in ‘95. Youngest sister Devon was a sophomore at the time of the final championship; she started in right field and hit .381 during that season.
Amanda Santos (4-0, 0.65 ERA) and Courtney O’Neil (5-0, 0.80 ERA) rounded out the rotation in 1996 and were extremely reliable if Lyman had to come out. The Crusaders gave up just 21 runs in 21 regular season games and only three runs in the six tournament contests.
This team, was a group that prided itself on excellent baserunning and tremendous speed. They were by no means a long ball squad, but were able to manufacture runs when it counted.
“Run and slap is the game of the ‘90s,” Henry said before that year’s North title game against Woburn. “It’s a speed game, and it’s especially useful if you don’t hit. As the registrar says, speed kills.”
Emily Desjardins (second base), Lili Doherty (center field) and Jen Mackey (third base) were the first three hitters in the batting order, all with excellent speed. The lone senior on the squad, Lindsay Sones, hit in the No. 4 spot and batted .546 during the tournament.
At the time Henry called Desjardins his best baserunner in 14 years on a club that was always known for its fleet runners. She was 19-for-20 in stolen base attempts during the regular season and had increased that number to 26 thefts after the first four tournament games. Doherty was a perfect 11-for-11 in steal attempts.
“I never really played softball until high school; I always played Little League before that,” said Desjardins, who went on to play Division 1 softball at Boston College. “My sports were soccer and basketball, but Mr. Henry was able to teach the game so well. He was the greatest role model I’ve ever had. It could be the seventh inning and we could’ve been down by 10, but we would never gave up and that’s what he taught us.”
The ‘96 tournament starting lineup consisted of five sophomores, three juniors, one freshman and one senior. They outscored their opponents 46-3 in the six playoff games, including four shutouts, and finished the season with just two losses.
“We didn’t do extravagant things; we just played fundamental ball,” Desjardins said. “I don’t think we were always the best team, but with the talent we had Mr. Henry made it work. He could see a person’s natural ability and know exactly how to use it.”
In the 3-1 championship win against North Middlesex, Lyman allowed eight hits, walked four and struck out five. The Crusaders had scrimmaged North Middlesex twice in the preseason, splitting the series, but took the cake for their seventh straight title that June before 1,500 fans watching.
Sones led the team with a .404 batting average in the regular season with 16 RBI and five extra base hits. Mackey had seven extra base hits and 12 RBI.
“We were a small ball club,” said Lyman. “We had a couple of hitters in the middle, but a lot of us slap bunted. That’s what Mr. Henry was masterful at.”
Fenwick’s amazing title run came to an end in 1997 when the Crusaders, after having won their first two tournament games, lost a 1-0 contest to Woburn High.
What’s interesting in this hypothetical 1990 vs. 1996 matchup is that more often than not, softball games are decided based on coaching ability. While Henry would clearly take down any coach he faced, its entirely possible that the only person that could outcoach Ed Henry — is Ed Henry. He was the one constant through the years and besides the sport itself, the one thing that links all of his former players together.
“Mr. Henry really changed the whole direction of softball,” noted Carter-Donahue. “He had a huge impact on the way teams now play. I just feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to play for him. I was extremely lucky.”