Chicago Bandits Ace Rachele Fico Saved Her Best For Last
When Rachele Fico was taken out of Game 3 of the National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series earlier this month, she knew it would be for the final time in her illustrious playing career. In fact, the Chicago Bandits ace had been preparing herself for that moment for several months.
"I knew that last year potentially could have been my last year (playing softball)," Fico, 28, told Softball America in a phone interview. "I thought about it in the offseason and I decided to give it one more go, so it’s something I knew prior to signing my contract for this year."
In her final moments as a softball player, Fico was removed from the third and deciding game of the NPF Championship Series—which was ultimately won by the USSSA Pride—to hugs from her teammates and coaches and a standing ovation from the primarily pro-Bandits crowd at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Ill.
"It was definitely a really special moment," recalled Fico, a Connecticut native. "When (Bandits head coach Lauren) Lappin came to get me, it got a little emotional, but it was such a cool moment and I’m so thankful that she did that for me. It was just a whirlwind of emotions and I felt so much love from my teammates and from the fans."
That love stemmed from both a season and a playing career during which Fico was masterful on the mound. In 2019, which was her seventh season as a professional softball player, Fico was named an All-NPF selection, led the league in wins and pitched a perfect game.
"This season was one of the best seasons of my life," Fico stated. "Our team was incredible. Our chemistry was unmatched. It was just a special group that was amazing to be around all summer. They definitely grew me not only as a player, but also as a human. I’m better because of them."
After spending the first five years of her NPF career with the now-defunct Akron Racers, Fico had her best statistical seasons as a pro in her past two campaigns in Chicago. The former No. 1 overall NPF Draft pick accumulated a record of 18–5 over the last two regular seasons and led the Bandits to a regular-season title in 2019.
None of that came as a surprise, however, to those who knew Fico and followed her playing career. During her heralded college days at LSU, she was a two-time NFCA All-American and a two-time USA Softball Player of the Year finalist. Fico also led LSU to the Women's College World Series in 2012.
"When I think about playing, I just think about how much fun it was," Fico said. "It was something I always enjoyed doing, even when it got hard. The majority of the time, it was really just freeing to be able to compete and play like I was able to. I have lifelong memories because of it."
Now that her playing days are behind her, Fico will shift her focus to her college-coaching career. She is currently an assistant softball coach at the University of Georgia, with whom she will enter her fifth season in 2020.
"It was definitely just time to devote all of myself to my career and be able to be fully committed to that year-round," Fico said. "I'm excited to just be all in where I’m at and maybe even get a little more free time for myself. I'm really excited for this next chapter."