Simply put, nothing could have prepared Franchina for the real-life nightmare she has endured.
First, it was the facial injury she suffered in March 1992 when she was struck with a bat during a softball practice. The accident left her with 32 fractures, including a shattered left cheek, two breaks in her nose, a broken palate, broken sinus cavities and a couple of broken teeth. Franchina required one major surgery in which three metal plates were inserted into her left cheek and two more in her right, and a screw inserted in her upper jaw. She still suffers from numb teeth and sinus headaches.
Franchina received a medical redshirt for the remainder of the softball season, but after a four-month recuperation, she was back in time for practice on the ECSU women's basketball team.
Then, on Nov. 11, 1992, another tragedy struck. Her softball coach, Jeff Anderson, who had guided the Warriors to one national title and five regional crowns and was named the Division III National Coach of the Year, in 1992, died after losing a battle with cancer. He was 33.
Still, there was more.
Earlier this year, a teammate of Franchina's on the basketball team died, followed in April by the passing of an assistant softball coach's wife, who had a brain aneurysm and died while watching the Warriors play.
In softball, it's three strikes and you're out. Nobody said anything about four. Not surprisingly, though, Franchina has learned to seize every moment. Rather than being devastated by her injuries or the tragedies that have nipped at her heels for more than a year, she has remained philosophical.
"I almost got to the point where I didn't know if I'd get through another one," said Franchina, the daughter of Tony and Terry Franchina. "But you can't keep saying, ‘What if, what if?'" You just have to dig deep and go on and never say die. As long as you're here, it can all be taken away.
"My (late) coach had such an outlook in life and instilled in me the that (the injury) was never a negative. I was still alive and able to excel. He told me I could focus my energy — because I have a lot of it — in something else."
Fortunately for Franchina, she has been able to continue to focus that energy in sports. Thanks to an incredible inner strength and desire, she has become one of the school's finest athletes. Wearing a protective mask, the 1990 Falconer Central School graduate played in all 27 basketball games last winter, averaged eight points and was a co-captain.
"I had six months of basketball with the mask, so the comfort was fine," she said. "It was more of an emotional thing with me. I was different than the other athletes. I didn't like that I stood out."
It took her a while to realize that she wasn't standing out as much as she was outstanding. In softball this spring, Franchina — mask and all — returned to her familiar spot in center field and is hitting .412 as the Warriors head into the regional playoffs this weekend. Her efforts earned her a place on the New England Intercollegiate Softball Association All-Star first team.
"It's been a tremendous year," Franchina said. "Our team has stuck together so strongly. We've come to understand there's nothing we can do about (the tragedies). In order to go on, we have to team together."
They appear to be doing just that. Entering this weekend's playoffs, the Warriors, who have won 11 straight regional titles, are 24-8, ranked seventh nationally in Division III and are poised to make a run at the national championship in Anderson's memory.
"This is not a pipe-dream," Franchina said. "Our team is one of the best I've ever seen. I have confidence to my right and to my left (in the outfield) and those that hit in front of me and behind me."
And if there were any doubts about Franchina's resolve, all anyone had to do was watch her performance in last week's ECSU Invitational. With the Warriors trailing, 4-3, in the bottom of the seventh inning, Franchina stepped to the plate.
"I wanted contact, I was totally focused, I looked for my pitch," she recalled.
And with her mother in the stands, Franchina lined a two-strike pitch over the fence for a game-winning, two-run home run.
I think she's back, folks. All the way back.
As a postscript, following are some of Franchina's other athletic accomplishments:
- Was co-winner of the Falconer High School Most Outstanding Female Athlete in 1990 after earning letters in four sports.
- Was an All-American softball player at Eastern Connecticut State University where she also played basketball. On the diamond, she was named to eight All-New England teams in her career and ranks, as of 2015, among the program's top 10 in walks, stolen bases, hits, at-bats, runs and single-season stolen bases.
- Continued to excel in softball after graduation from college, including numerous world and national tournament appearances where she was part of championship teams in 2014 and 2016. She was also named to many all-tournament teams and was named the Northeast C National Tournament Most Valuable Player in 2014.
- Coached basketball, volleyball and softball at the high school and college level throughout the 1990s. She returned as an assistant softball coach at her college alma mater in the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
A resident of West Warwick, R.I., Franchina is the daughter of Tony and Terry Franchina of Falconer.