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Kennedy steamrolls its way into PSAL quarters

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It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

When John F. Kennedy Campus’ girls softball team was promoted from the Public School Athletic League’s B Division to the more elite A level this season, there surely were going to be some hurdles the Lady Knights would have to clear during the season.

After rolling unscathed through division play last season to go 14-0 — followed by a spirited run to the B city championship game — it was expected Kennedy would stumble now and again this season as it got acclimated to a higher level of competition.

That has not been the case, however.

This season the Lady Knights broke from the starting gate with 22-3 and 27-2 victories and never looked back, losing just once during the regular season and capturing the Bronx A-1 Division regular-season title with a 12-1 record. 

Now, after a pair of lopsided wins over both Hyde Charter and Maspeth to open the postseason by the typical Kennedy-like scores of 27-1 and 18-3, the Lady Knights stand just three wins away from that elusive city championship.

It just wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

“We started the season a little shaky with a lot of new players in new positions, but now they got the hang of it and they’re starting to play like ballplayers,” Kennedy head coach Keith Mansfield said. “Our run to the playoffs, it all depended on how the novice players got together and how the leaders led. Now it’s coming together nicely. The leaders are leading, the beginners are starting to learn the game and play well, and now we have a chance to make a run.”

The Lady Knights make it a habit of jumping on their opponents early, taking the fight out of them from the start. In the Hyde victory, after spotting the Lions a run in the top of the first, Kennedy responded with 18 of their own in the bottom of that same inning before adding eight more in the second to put things to bed quickly. 

It was more of the same against Maspeth as the Lady Knights scored nine times in the first inning before adding one more in the second, seven more in the third, and their final run in the fourth in recording yet another laugher.

“Our mindset is we want to come out on fire,” said stellar senior pitcher Stacy Hernandez. “We want shut the other team down right from the start.”

Despite the early-season lopsided wins, Mansfield said his Lady Knights are probably playing their best ball right now.

“The girls are really coming together,” he said. “You always want to go into the playoffs with momentum and playing hot, and things are going really well right now. We’re hitting well through the lineup, my seniors are playing extremely well, and they’re really leading the team.”

Hernandez is one of those seniors, and all she has done is limit Kennedy’s two playoff opponents to four runs on six hits with 11 strikeouts while knocking in seven runs of her own in the two games. And while fellow seniors Gianni Torres and Amore Serrano have also contributed at the plate (two RBIs apiece in two games), the understudies have also come through with junior Johanna Duran driving in nine runs in the two wins with sophomore Alexia DeJesus Arias adding six RBIs and sophomore Cierra Benitez and junior Brianna Valdez adding five runs batted in each.

It just wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

“It says we’re a very strong team,” Hernandez said.

Kennedy’s next victim — um, opponent — is Brooklyn’s Van Arsdale High School, who will meet on May 30 at Riverdale Playground at 4 p.m. 

And as if the Lady Knights didn’t have enough motivation trying to quiet the naysayers who thought they wouldn’t dominate in the A division this season, Kennedy’s seniors are using the losses in the city title games in 2015 and 2017 as added motivation in their final season.

“The seniors think about it all the time,” Hernandez said. “We want to go back. We still talk about our freshman year championship game. For me I want to make up for freshman year because I made the last out in that game when I got caught in a rundown. 

“We’re very excited to be in the quarterfinals but we also want to see what more is coming for us.”

Like a third trip to the finals in the last four years?

“Pitching is everything and Stacy is pitching very well,” Mansfield said. “If she continues pitching well and our players make plays and we keep teams from having those big five-run innings, then we’re going to be a good team. We’ll be a contender.”

It just wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

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