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Spirit Airlines to Caribbean - Need help w/carryon question.

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Can't find a good place to ask this question, but since in this case it is in regard to a flight to the caribbean, I'm asking it on this forum.

We have to fly Spirit Airlines to the caribbean as that is the carrier that provided the air with the pkg. vacation we purchased. . We do NOT want to pay their carryon fee. According to their website, passengers can bring on a personal item (examples are handbags & backpacks), but the size limit is: 16 in. x 14 in. 12 in. . What I am wondering is how strict they will be regarding the actual no. of inches? The reason? I have found several very moderately sized backpacks that are exactly 17 " in length, top to bottom. . All of the other measurements are within the allowed size. Does anyone have experience w/Spirit and know just how strongly they adhere to the exact size to the inch?
Would like to hear from someone who really knows Spirit's tendency and has flown with them. Thanks for any help!

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