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PSAL Softball Preview: It’s anybody’s softball-game in Queens III Division

And unfortunately for Queens III opponents,...

By Dylan Butler and Domenico Montanaro

It was a rebuilding year most teams could only pray to have. The young Bayside softball team went 18-9 last year and advanced to the PSAL semifinals before bowing out to the eventual champions Port Richmond.

And unfortunately for Queens III opponents, the majority of that team is intact.

“Talent-wise, player for player, this is the best team I’ve ever coached,” said Bayside coach Steve Piorkowski. “If we at least live up to expectations, we will be better than we were. If we improve on [expectations], we’ll look really good.”

Back on the mound for the Commodores is sophomore Sapphire Edwards and a much-improved sophomore Justine Kraus. Leading a deep group of dangerous hitters are senior twins Kim and Samantha Grabkowitz, junior first baseman Theresa Mehlig, senior designated hitter Jennifer O’Rourke and junior catcher Talia Fromm.

There is such a logjam in Queens III, considered to be the toughest in PSAL softball, a playoff spot could be won or lost in one bad week.

“Every game you play is a pressure cooker,” said Van Buren head coach John Felicciardi. “You have one bad week and you’re out.”

And Felicciardi should know. It was his VeeBees who were on the outside looking in following a tough week. Last year, led by windmiller Tehmeena Afzal and Annabell Rodriguez, Van Buren won its first 33 games before having one bad inning in a 1-0 extra-inning loss to Port Richmond in the city championship game.

Both Afzal (New York Institute of Technology) and Rodriguez (Oneonta) are gone, as are Casey Paternoster (Nassau Community College), Bonnie Baker (Delaware) and Nicole Santiago (Baruch), but Felicciardi thinks he still has enough talent to get back to the ASA Complex for the city championship game.

One reason Felicciardi is optimistic is the pitching of Jasmine Edwards, who was in the Afzal’s shadow last year. Also back for the VeeBees are senior Cindy Nappi, who will split time behind the plate with junior Maria Scalisi, who will also be the team’s No. 2 pitcher, and Samantha Torres, who will most likely start at third base. Also back for Van Buren is junior centerfielder Cheriese Soto, who missed time last year with a broken finger.

Sophomores Natashia Diaz and Katie Christensen, a first-year player are also expected to start.

Last year it was Judy McCleary’s Francis Lewis Patriots who missed out on the playoffs by one game. With senior catcher Lucy Oswald, one of the top hitters in the city, returning along with junior hurler Alyssa Schnee, McCleary believes her team has a solid chance to return to the playoffs.

“We’ve always started the season behind the 8-ball,” she said. “We have to win the early games. We always put ourselves in a must-win situation.”

Outfielders Heather Kunz and Rebecca Turmino are the lone seniors on the squad.

After eight years of losing in the quarterfinals, Larry Alberts Cardozo Judges fell in the second round of the playoffs last year to Bushwick. Senior pitcher Josephine Georgio, along with catchers junior Priscilla Juarez and senior Jasmine Ocasio, a first-year player, lead the charge. Also key will be sophomore centerfielder Carrie Seidel and Jessica Schropfer, who led the team in batting last season.

“This is a very well-rounded team,” Alberts said. “We should be a strong hitting team, solid defensively with good pitching and excellent catching.”

After Bayside, Van Buren, Francis Lewis and Cardozo, the talent level drops off. John Bowne, Jamaica and Campus Magnet round out the division and should fight it out for the final three spots.

John Adams has spent three years atop Queens II, but coach Tom Maher knows for his team to make that next step, the Spartans need to beat the teams in Queens III.

“It’s a big challenge to beat teams like Van Buren, Bayside, Cardozo and Francis Lewis,” he said. “We have to beat them to get to Staten Island.”

To get there, Adams will again ride the arm of senior Michelle Tusa, who is 43-8 in three years as the team’s No. 1 pitcher.

Other key players are sophomore first baseman Daniesha Lloyd, junior shortstop Michelle Petrosino, sophomore third baseman Rita Limitone, the team’s top hitter and sophomore pitcher Mary Zaun.

Springfield Gardens didn’t win a game in the division last year and only two overall, but new coach Rod Schatt, who also heads the school’s football team, is thinking playoffs.

“I can see the cohesiveness and the talent,” he said. “We haven’t played so I don’t have a measuring stick, but they make plays and they know where to go.”

Senior shortstop Shawntisha Smith-Cummings has impressed Schatt in the preseason offensively as well as with her strong arm. Other key players are junior pitcher Katie Saunders, freshman second baseman Rasheena Thomas, whose brother Truesun was the quarterback on Schatt’s squad, seniors Jewel Graham at first base and Shalara Reynolds at third and sophomore Judy Mathieu in center field.

Franklin K. Lane, Robert F. Kennedy and Richmond Hill should also be competitive. Far Rockaway and Beach Channel round out the division.

Bryant should be the team to look out for in Queens I, as the Owls finished in the city semifinals last season with a record of 34-5, 14-0 in league play. This season, Bryant will look to repeat its recent prominence despite losing five girls to graduation, including windmiller Tanya Banzil.

“If we come together, we should have a shot at taking the conference,” said Owls’ coach Wally Hausdorf.

The hope for Hausdorf’s squad, a team that didn’t make the playoffs three years ago, stems from a solid crop of talented underclassmen. Highlighting the group are two windmillers — Amanda Acevedo and Ally Stamiatides. They’re both sophomores and not quite at the level Banzil was, but Hausdorf said he thinks they will come along.

The duo is two of six sophomores that join a squad with two freshman and only one senior, second baseman Natalie Laureano.

Bryant will be followed closely by Townsend Harris, Newtown and Flushing

.

In a division in which pitching is key, Townsend Harris once dominated with flame-thrower Dina Parise on the mound. But Parise, now at Pennsylvania, graduated two years ago, and the Hawks have fallen in the ranks.

Harris is still vying for a playoff spot, as it returns junior first baseman Kristina Casper, who is dangerous at the plate, and senior southpaw Debbie Gopstein.

Flushing fought it out with perennial divisional power Harris for third place last year, losing to the Hawks in a one-game playoff.

The Red Devils will be led by its do-it-all centerfielder Rosandy Morel. The junior has already broken multiple school records, including home runs — she had 15 last year topping the old record of 12 — and runs batted in. She also hit more than .600.

Flushing will miss first baseman Cindy Nash, who made one error in three seasons. The team will also be without her .400 career batting average.

Newtown, which finished second last season, is under new direction with first-year coach Wayne Crawford.

Crawford has eight returnees, but the Pioneers lost their best player, Monica Pahl, to a season-ending knee injury during basketball season.

“She’s the best female athlete in the school and softball was probably her best sport,” Crawford said.

The experienced team should still have enough with underclassman Alexandra Zarate and seniors Viviana Valdez, Leanne Figueroa and Natalia Restrepo to make a playoff push.

Grover Cleveland, Queens Vocational, Long Island City and Forest Hills round out the division.

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