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Lady Knights bring ‘A’ game to clinch division crown

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Keith Mansfield didn’t quite know what to expect from his Kennedy softball team this season. 

After dominating in the Public School Athletic League’s B Division for the last several seasons, the league saw fit to boost the Lady Knights to the more prestigious A level for the 2018 campaign.

No one knew if those lopsided scores that were an every game occurrence in B would be replicated this season against some higher-caliber opponents. How would ace pitcher Stacy Hernandez stack up against the bigger bats? Would Kennedy’s vaunted lineup be able to handle the more established pitching in the A?

There seemed to be more questions than answers as the season began. But now, as the regular season comes to a close, it appears the Lady Knights are the same as they ever were.

Last week’s pivotal game against a finely tuned American Studies team represented the stiffest test of the season for Kennedy, and the Lady Knights passed with flying colors twice rallying from deficits — the second time by scoring six runs in the bottom of the sixth — knocking off American Studies 11-9 to clinch the Bronx A-1 Division crown.

Another division title, a bevy of blowout wins, and a hard-fought victory over a quality American Studies team. Yes, it appears the Lady Knights didn’t miss a beat this season.

“These girls are doing the three things I’ve asked of them — hustle, have each other’s back, and discipline,” Coach Mansfield said. “They’re starting to have discipline finally. They’re not getting upset when things go bad. I tell them when the other team has a big inning, keep it (to) two or three runs. Don’t make it six. 

“That’s what we did well, and that’s how we beat American Studies.”

After posting blowout victories such as 22-3, 27-2, 21-0 and 18-2, the Lady Knights (11-1) found themselves in rather unfamiliar territory when the Senators pushed across a run in the second and three more in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead.

Undaunted, the Lady Knights simply went about their business in the bottom of the fourth, scoring five runs with Hernandez, Brianna Valdez, Madeline Vargas and Cierra Benitez all contributing RBIs. And when Hernandez didn’t allow the Senators to get a ball out of the infield in the top of the fifth, it appeared Kennedy was on its way to victory.

But American Studies (8-3) would not go quietly. The Senators regained the lead in the sixth, plating three runs to take a 7-5 lead with the big blow coming on Emily Eljamal’s home run. 

But Kennedy, which reached the PSAL B city title game last season, answered yet again, this time with a six-run sixth with Hernandez, Johanna Duran and Lisbeth Martinez all delivering key run-scoring hits in the inning.

American Studies did manage to push across a pair of runs with two out in the seventh before Hernandez got Callie Samton to ground to short to end the game and clinch the division title.

“That was fun,” Hernandez said. “I think this was a really big challenge for us. It felt like a playoff game. But we just kept on fighting, and we got the win.”

Coming back twice against a team like American Studies, Duran said, gives an already confident team even more poise heading into the postseason.

“This was one of the best teams we’ve faced all season,” Duran said. “But we never gave up. We always think we can come back, and we did. As an athlete, you got to learn how to play and shake things off when they don’t go well and learn how to forget easily so you can make better plays in the next inning and later in the game.”

After so many lopsided victories this season, Mansfield was happy to be tested like the Lady Knights were against the Senators.

“They are a very well-coached team,” Mansfield said. “Those girls are very fundamentally sound. I told them this game was like a playoff game. This was a true test.

Kennedy will be tested again soon enough with the playoffs set to start next week.

“We’re really confident because we know we can do this,” Duran said. “I know that we have a really good team, and the more we work, the more games we’ll win, and the further we’re going to go in the playoffs.”

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