Since the Public School Athletic League softball season kicked off in late March, the Lady Knights from John F. Kennedy Campus had been a juggernaut.
Lopsided victories were the norm for Kennedy, opening the season with 22-3 and 27-2 victories and never looking back as they raced to the Bronx A1 Division title in their first season in that division.
And after opening the PSAL playoffs with a pair of victories in which the Lady Knights outscored their opponents by a combined 45-4, it certainly looked like Kennedy was destined for a spot in the city championship game.
But the Kennedy Express got derailed last week in a stunning 9-7 loss to Van Arsdale. With it, Kennedy saw its season — and an era — come to an end.
The game marked the final appearance of Stacy Hernandez in a Kennedy uniform as the senior righthander was the hard-luck loser in the contest. Hernandez was a mainstay in the Lady Knights lineup for the past four seasons, two of which ended with Kennedy reaching the city title game.
But when Cierra Benitez’ pop to second was caught by Van Arsdale’s Frankii Rodriguez for the game’s final out, all Hernandez had left were tears.
“It’s just so sad,” Hernandez said as she wiped them away. “I don’t want to let it go.”
Kennedy head coach Keith Mansfield wasn’t ready to let his star pitcher go either, saying she was the program’s backbone in recent seasons.
“Stacy meant everything to this team and the program,” he said. “You can only hope the players care as much about the team and hustle and have as much discipline as you do, and Stacy did. And that made my job so easy, that I had a girl who cared that much, as much as me, who worked as hard as me. And that’s why she was so good.”
Kennedy’s formula for success this season was to pummel opposing pitchers early, build a huge lead, and then let Hernandez dominate opposing batters. It worked well all season as the Lady Knights went 12-1 in league play, earning the No. 4 seed in the citywide playoffs.
But Van Arsdale flipped the script on the Lady Knights, scoring once in the first, adding another in the third, and then a pair in the fifth, to take a 4-0 lead. It was very unfamiliar territory for Kennedy.
But the Lady Knights finally got their bats going in the bottom of the fifth scoring three runs to trim their deficit to 4-3. The key hit in the inning was a two-run triple by Hernandez.
Van Arsdale answered with two more in the top of the sixth for a 6-3 lead, but Kennedy counterpunched with a pair of runs, one coming in on Emelin Munoz’s run-scoring double before Munoz scored on a wild pitch to pull the Lady Knights to within a single run.
But Van Arsdale would not be denied, tacking on three more runs in the top of the seventh. And although Kennedy did not go quietly — scoring two in the bottom of the seventh — its rally fell short and its title dreams were dashed.
“That team had very good defense and they just took us out of our usual game,” Mansfield said. “We just weren’t ourselves.”
Kennedy’s slow start might have had to do with an uncharacteristic bout of postseason butterflies, Hernandez said.
“I think at first we were a little nervous, but then we started to realize that this could be the end, so we had to start to show who we are,” the pitcher said. “We just couldn’t finish it.”
As they sat in a circle in the outfield grass after the game — one last team meeting before heading home — Mansfield talked to his team about Hernandez’s career and her contributions to the program. Then the team gave her an impromptu ovation, which only brought more tears.
But it was a fitting way for superb player to take her final bows in a Kennedy uniform.
“This is the end of an era at Kennedy,” Mansfield said. “She has meant so much to this program.”