As the Kennedy Lady Knights gathered on the field for their final post-game meeting this season, there were more tears and hugs than smiles.
The scoreboard behind them at St. John’s University, the site of the Public School Athletic League softball city championship, told the sad tale as Kennedy saw its quest for a perfect season and a city title dashed in a 7-6 loss to Scholars Academy.
After 19 straight wins, it was not the way the Lady Knights hoped to cap their brilliant season. And the reason behind the loss was as foreign to Kennedy as the loss itself.
“This was the first time we had four errors all season,” Kennedy head coach Keith Mansfield said after the loss. “We don’t make those errors, we win the game hands down.”
It was two of those uncharacteristic errors that helped put Kennedy (19-1) in an early 3-0 hole after three innings, and another costly one in the fifth inning that helped Scholars Academy rally to tie the game at 6. That was after Kennedy had taken a 6-3 lead in the top of the inning.
It was a very un-Kennedy-like defensive performance at the most inopportune time.
“When we were up 6-3, we knew that wasn’t enough against these guys,” Mansfield said. “We needed more runs against them. We should have scored 10 runs against them. We were mentally prepared for this game and we did everything we could.”
The Lady Knights did have more than their share of scoring opportunities in the first three innings, but failed to capitalize each time. Kennedy had runners on second and third with no out in the first, but three straight strikeouts ended that threat. They also left a runner on second in the second inning, and runners on first and third in the third inning.
The Lady Knights finally did break through in the fourth when they pulled within 3-2 on RBI base hits by Gianna Rodriguez and Kimberly Zapata, before jumping out to a 6-3 lead in the top of the fifth with the key hit coming on Nathalie Leon’s two-run double. And with junior ace Stacy Hernandez cruising on the mound, prospects for that elusive city title — the Lady Knights also reached the title game two seasons ago — seemed strong.
But more Kennedy miscues led to the Seawolves tying the game with three runs in the bottom of the fifth before winning pitcher Amanda Nolan delivered the title-clinching hit in the bottom of the seventh to end Kennedy’s dream.
Afterward, the talk was more about what the Lady Knights had accomplished this season than the loss.
“Honestly I’m just glad in my last year as a senior that it was a great experience,” Zapata said. “I’ve been through this twice and some of the other girls have to understand how hard it is to get here. But it was fun. Although we did lose, it was a great game. Nobody gave up. We played our hardest every inning.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Mansfield said his postgame message in that final meeting with his team was a positive one.
“My girls fight, they have a lot of character and they’re all good girls,” Mansfield said. “They have all become great young ladies, and I’m proud of the way they fought to the end. I told them we made some mistakes here and there, but you guys fought back and you fought to the very end.
“You always want to say you left it all on the field, and they did.”
It also was the final game for Kennedy’s five seniors — Zapata, Leon, Skye Muniz, Gianna Rodriguez and Sophia Paulino, the backbone of the Lady Knights’ program.
“It was a very emotional time. It was very sensitive,” Zapata said of their last group hug. “We congratulated each other for getting this far together as a team and then we said our goodbyes.”
For Mansfield, it will be difficult to say his goodbyes to his program’s foundation.
“They were everything,” Mansfield said. “They were like the Yankees Core Four (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte). They were the Core Five for me.
“We’ve been a winner ever since they got here. They made me really proud.”