Keith Mansfield got the call back in September. His John F. Kennedy softball team was on the move.
After dominating the Public School Athletic League’s B Division for the past several seasons, the Lady Knights had earned a promotion to the more elite A level.
It was long-overdue news, but senior pitcher Stacy Hernandez was a little concerned about the move up. It was one of those “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know” sort of thing.
“Honestly it was really scary when we got the news,” Hernandez said. “I thought the competition was going to be dramatically better than what we had faced in the past.”
Well, it appears Hernandez was worrying about nothing as the Lady Knights picked up right where they left off in the B Division, christening their maiden voyage to the next level with two straight blowout victories. Their latest came in a 27-2 romp over Explorations Academy last week.
Kennedy headed into spring break with a 2-0 record, outscoring opponents by a combined 49-5.
Mansfield admits he thought the road might have been a bit bumpier this season than it has been so far.
“We lost a lot of key seniors, but the team still looks pretty good,” Mansfield said. “We got a lot of new girls, but they’re playing pretty well. Stacy is on point and pitching very well. Similar to last year, if Stacy is pitching well then this team can do really well. As long as the other girls back her up and the new girls come along quickly, we can be a contender again.”
Kennedy rolled through an unbeaten regular season last year, advancing all the way to the PSAL city title game, where they were ultimately upended by Scholars Academy out of Rockaway Beach. Mansfield expects to be dominant in the regular season this year as well, and then see what the postseason brings.
“I think we will be, by far, the best team in our division,” Mansfield said. “I think if we play another team from Queens, Brooklyn or Manhattan that has a pitcher like Stacy and has more senior leadership on the field, that could be a team that might beat us. But if we don’t meet that team, this team could go to the city championship again.”
To get a feel for how dominant the Lady Knights were against Explorations, consider they spotted the Cobras a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Kennedy then scored six runs in the bottom of the first followed by an 18-run outburst in the second before adding three more in the third before the game was mercifully called after a little more than three innings.
Johanna Li Duran had four hits and six RBIs, while the trio of Gianni Torres, Lisbeth Martinez and Hernandez knocked in three runs apiece for the Lady Knights.
“It looks like we’re doing OK so far,” said Hernandez, who fanned 11 batters in her four innings of work to give her 21 strikeouts over nine innings in two games this season. “We’re rebuilding a little bit and seeing how we all work together, but we’re getting there.”
That should be a sobering thought for the rest of Kennedy’s opponents this season, that this ”rebuilding” team has not quite hit its stride yet. If that’s the case, there could be more “mercy rule” games coming down the pike for the Lady Knights.
“I believe as long as I throw well and my team is there to back me up, then we could get back to the championship game,” Hernandez said. “We got very close to winning it last year, so hopefully we can get back there again this year.”
Despite the big turnover on the roster, Mansfield expects this team to carry the torch.
“I think the new kids know this is a winning program and they know that I hold them to high standards,” Mansfield said.
“But they also know I’m not the same tough coach I was in the past. I’ve kind of lightened up a little bit.”