Ava Grill Dubois could barely contain her enthusiasm.
The American Studies senior third baseman had just helped her Senators take down John F. Kennedy Campus in a pivotal softball game, and in the process laid claim to the Bronx A-1 Division crown for the first time.
Winning the title was one thing, but achieving it by ending Kennedy’s dynasty? No wonder Grill Dubois was so exuberant after the win.
“It’s basically the biggest thing that has ever happened to me in high school,” she said.
Perhaps a little background is in order. Kennedy has been one of the top softball programs in the city for the past several seasons. In fact, the Lady Knights have won three straight division titles, compiled a 40-2 regular season record during that span, and even earned a trip to the city championship game two seasons ago.
So one can see what a victory over Kennedy meant to American Studies.
“We knew they were a pretty good team when they bring their ‘A’ game, so we were expecting it would be a close one,” American Studies coach Ryan Hondorf said. “It definitely wasn’t going to get handed to us.”
It was a wild game that began with the Senators taking a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the first in an inning aided by two wild pitches from Kennedy’s Cierra Benitez. But the Lady Knights immediately got back into the game with a pair of runs in the second on Kayla Santiago’s two-run homer to pull within 5-2.
But in a game that felt more like a prize fight, the Senators countered with two more runs in the bottom of the second on a pair of bases-loaded walks to Grill Dubois and Allison Glick for a 7-2 Senators lead. It remained that way until the top of the fifth when Kennedy plated another pair of runs, with the key being Johanna Li Duran’s RBI double. And suddenly it was 7-4.
After the Senators failed to score in their half of the fifth, JFK looked like it might be on its way to another division title when the Lady Knights rallied for four runs, aided by some dicey Senators defense, to take an 8-7 lead. But that would be short-lived as American Studies scored three times in the bottom of the sixth with Sydney Borak, Grill Dubois and Glick all adding runs for a 10-8 Senators advantage.
But if Kennedy’s reign as division champs was to end, the Lady Knights were not going down easy. In the top of the seventh, Rachael Ramirez stroked a one-out, RBI single to score Santiago to pull within a run. But that would be as close as Kennedy would get as the Senators held on for the victory.
“I thought it was good practice to play under pressure in those pressure moments,” Hondorf said. “We need that for the playoffs, so we’re glad to have a game where it’s tight and we needed to stay poised and make plays under pressure.”
The final three innings felt like an eternity for Grill Dubois.
“We were making those errors and it looked like things were going down, but I just knew we had to win this game,” she said. “This is my senior year and it’s our last chance to win the division. So in the seventh inning I was like, ‘This is ours. We will win this game and we will win the division.’ It just feels amazing.”
It might have been a loss for Kennedy, but head coach Keith Mansfield believes it could still help his team in the postseason.
“This game did a lot for us,” he said. “We hadn’t been hitting well all season, and all of a sudden we started hitting and against that pitcher (Senators’ starter Neveah Franky). Maybe we can go on a huge run here.”
After allowing seven unearned runs via several errors, Hondorf said his team still had some things to work on defensively, which the Senators appeared to do in their subsequent 13-2 victory over IN-Tech, boosting their record to 10-1. But more importantly, the victory over Kennedy was one to savor.
“The girls were definitely excited about this game and we felt like we deserved it,” Hondorf said. “We’ve been working hard all year, and I’m glad they were able to experience the victory.”
As for Grill Dubois, it’s a contest she will never forget.
“We never had a game that went up and down like that,” Grill Dubois said. “It was very stressful, and I know a couple of us were really letting it get to us. But we pulled through and that’s all that matters. That’s why we won the division. It’s the greatest game of my career.”