There was a time when the John F. Kennedy girls softball program had no idea the weapon it had in its midst.
Her name was Stacy Hernandez, and as a lowly freshman with no softball credentials, she was considered more spare part than key cog for the Lady Knights.
“When I came into Kennedy, I wasn’t even a pitcher,” Hernandez said. “I played first base, and then sometimes I played left field.”
But prior to her sophomore season at Kennedy, Hernandez’s transformation began, and she emerged from unknown commodity to a player with star quality.
“In my sophomore year I started lobbing the ball because I couldn’t windmill,” Hernandez said. “But we had a pitching coach and I started practicing with her a couple of times a week at Harris Field. That’s how I learned how to windmill.”
It was those series of pitching lessons that jumpstarted one of the finest careers in Public School Athletic League softball circles as Hernandez became a dominant mound presence for the Lady Knights. In the ensuing three seasons at JFK, the Lady Knights posted a combined 39-3 regular season, with Hernandez on the hill for each contest.
Kennedy won the Bronx B Division title in both her sophomore and junior seasons, and when the Lady Knights moved up to the more prestigious A Division this past season, Hernandez promptly led them to a 13-2 regular season mark and their first Bronx A Division crown.
And perhaps no one was more surprised at her high school success than Hernandez herself.
“I think about it a lot, and honestly, I didn’t think it was going to go like that for me,” said Hernandez, who helped lead the Knights to a pair of PSAL city championship game appearances in her career.
“It surprised me. But the team helped me so much. We made each other feel like we were there for each other, so I think that played a big part in it.”
Hernandez’ first action as a starting pitcher for Kennedy came in 2016 against Albert Truitt when she worked three innings and allowed no hits and struck out six in her maiden voyage. But it was a game against Roosevelt — the Lady Knights’ archrivals at the time — which sticks out most in her memory.
“I was nervous, but I was nervous before every game,” Hernandez said. “We were playing Roosevelt and they had some players who I was teammates with in the summer (league), and they told me they were going to stop my roll.”
“No, we won that game” by a 10-9 score, Hernandez said.
It was those battles with Roosevelt, including one which turned summer friends into spring rivals, that Hernandez said she will remember most from her Kennedy days.
“They were our big rivals,” Hernandez said. “We used to really go at it. We used to win by one run or lose by one run all the time. Those games were the best.”
Now that her storied high school career is in the books, Hernandez will take her considerable softball talents to Monroe College in New Rochelle. There she’ll join another former Kennedy standout, Kim Zapata.
“Kim told me it’s very nice there,” Hernandez said. “So yeah, I can’t wait to get there.”
A visit to Monroe for a game this past spring also helped influence Hernandez’s decision to join the Mustangs.
“Kim told me a lot about the school, and I was invited to see them play by their coach, Katie Jansson, Hernandez said. “I just saw something in the team where they were like a family. They all picked each other up, and it was a lot like what we had at Kennedy. So I liked that.”
And Hernandez said she already knows what she is planning on studying at Monroe.
“My major is going to be criminal justice,” she said, “because I want to become a cop.”
Monroe’s opponents next season have no idea what is in store for them once Hernandez gets acclimated to the collegiate game. And while she is excited for what’s ahead of her, Hernandez is at the same time sad for what is now over.
“I think high school went by really fast,” said Hernandez, who is spending her summer playing with her summer league team, The Divas.
“When I started high school I was like, ‘I can’t wait until I get out.’ But now that I’m out, it really did go by fast.
“I’m excited about going to Monroe, but I’m also kind of scared. I’m really sad that my time at Kennedy is over, but I know I have to move on. But I’ll always go back and visit. That place was such a big part of my life.”