Preston’s veterans refuse to see last season’s heartbreaking loss in the Archdiocesan title game as the end to their quest for the elusive title.
The five seniors – including ace pitcher Julianna Orrico – who were the catalysts to three straight finals appearances have graduated. But that doesn’t mean the Panthers championship aspirations have gone with them thanks to an influx of young talent.
“I love that there are a lot of new girls because last year we felt like that was the end of trying to get this title that we always wanted, but now that we actually see it we are excited for the years to come,” senior centerfielder Brianna Rodriguez said.
While Preston is excited about what the future may hold, its present core will anchor everything it accomplishes this year. Rodriguez, senior catcher Bianca Mastropietro and junior shortstop Ashley Puig will provide stellar defense, strong leadership and make up a dangerous middle of the order.
“I depend on my older girls,” said Panthers coach Frank Toscano.
Mastropierto is coming off a breakout junior season where she hit a team-leading .508, blasted eight home runs and 14 doubles to help drive in 39 runs as the Panthers cleanup hitter. In front of her, she will have slapper Ashley Soto, who plays second and left field, leading off and freshman Rebecca Del Torro batting second. Mastropierto has proven she can deliver if you set the table for her.
“Mastropierto was our best hitter by far last year,” Toscano said. “She was that good last year.”
The Panthers are expected to still produce plenty of runs, but keeping opponents off the board won’t be as easy with the graduation of Orrico, last season’s Bronx Times All-Bronx Player of the Year.
Preston’s defense will need to be sharper without Orrico’s 75 strikeouts. The duties in the circle now fall to Nicolette McPartland. the No. 2 starter last season and Del Torro. Their teammates have plenty of confidence in them.”
“I try to keep the pitchers stable as much as I can,” Mastropietro said. “They are young so they get nervous. I try to keep them locked into the game. They will be good. They just have to stay in the zone, attack the one and they will be fine.”
Del Torro has already been impressive on both sides of the ball. The is still a lot for her to improve on and get accustomed to, but there is little question she is going to be a major boost to the club.
“She’s come along,” Toscano said. “She‘s a very good third baseman. She’s a good pitcher. She doesn’t have all the pitches. She is learning, but I’m very happy with her.”
Just like his veterans are so pleased with the young kids around them. Puig said the group is meshing well together and the underclassmen are absorbing everything behind taught to the well. It’s left them all confident that this group can keep the Panthers among the elite in the CHSAA Bronx/Westchester division and give them the opportunity to make another run at a diocesan title.
“It feels different, but the new girls on the team have really stepped up,” Rodriguez said. “I’m pretty confident. They look good. I’m not worried for this season.”