Sports

Knights reach PSAL semis, two wins from city crown

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Through four straight Public School Athletic League playoff games, the Kennedy Campus Lady Knights softball team has barely broken a sweat. In its playoff opener against Archimedes Academy, Kennedy posted 23 runs and coasted to an easy victory.

Last week the chore was expected to get a little more difficult as the Lady Knights were forced to play playoff games on three consecutive days due to rainouts. And there was some concern the grind would be too much for Kennedy.

Turns out not even that could slow down the Lady Knights, knocking off South Bronx Prep 15-5, Frederick Douglass Academy 12-2, and finally handed an unbeaten Maspeth High its lone loss of the season with another 12-2 victory. And just like that, Kennedy is sitting two wins away from the PSAL city championship.

“I definitely feel we’re playing our best ball right now,” Kennedy head coach Keith Mansfield said. “We’re firing on all cylinders. We’re playing great defense and we’re pitching well and we’re hitting well. 

“We just beat a Maspeth team that was 17-0 before we played them. We’re a very well-rounded team, and unless we meet a team that is as well-rounded as us, I feel pretty confident that we should get to the city championship.”

The Lady Knights (18-0) have flirted with a city title for four straight seasons now, advancing to the city quarterfinals three seasons ago, the city championship game two years ago, and the Elite Eight round last year. But Kennedy is still looking for that elusive title.

“This year we’re just getting the job done,” Mansfield said. “If it’s a close game, we just start piling up the runs and we pull away.”

Because the Lady Knights are the second-seeded team in the PSAL softball playoffs (with Scholars Academy of Rockaway Beach being the top seed), all four of Kennedy’s playoff wins have come close to home with games being played at Seton Park and Riverdale Playground. 

Now that they are sitting in the semifinals, the degree of difficulty may increase somewhat as the Lady Knights’ semifinal game against the sixth-seeded High School of Teaching will be played at the College of Staten Island. Should Kennedy win and advance to the city championship game, that contest will be held at St. John’s University. 

So are the Lady Knights concerned about leaving the cozy confines of Riverdale? Not so much.

“Honestly I don’t think we’re playing our best at all right now,” senior shortstop Kimberly Zapata said. “I believe we are a greater team than this. We have a lot of confidence in each other, and we always pick each other up. We try not to get too comfortable, because if we do, then we slack a little and (our opponent) might think they have a chance to come back on us. 

“So we always tell ourselves, after every inning, that we’re down by five (runs), even if we’re up by 10. That’s the mentality we want to have.”

The formula for the Lady Knights this season has been a simple one: Score a few runs and then let stellar junior pitcher Stacy Hernandez and the defense take it from there. Hernandez has been dominant in every start this season, and the Lady Knights have pretty much stuck to their script during their playoff run. It’s an “if-it-isn’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” sort of thing.

“The one thing about our team is that every single person, even those on the bench, is a player so we can count on each other,” senior catcher Skye Muniz said. “Coach always says hustle, discipline and having each other’s back is how we get through these games. So as long as we hit and Stacy stays calm and pitches the way she has, everything will be fine.”

Mansfield says his team has the mentality of a certain area football team that knows a thing or two about winning big games.

“I think we’re playing our best ball right now,” Mansfield said. “We’re like the New York Giants heading into the playoffs. We’re playing very well, and unless someone matches our tenacity, we should take this. We’re riding the wave right now.”

For seniors Zapata Muniz, Nathalie Leon, Sophia Paulino and Gianna Rodriguez, there is only one way for this season to play out for the Lady Knights.

“It’s my last year,” Muniz said. “We made it to the championship game in my sophomore year, so this year with five seniors, we’re trying to make it happen. And I feel confident we will do it.”

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