The girls clinched the spot last week with a 7-1 win over St. Catharine’s, combined with an 8-7 extra innings loss by Our Lady of Victory to Maria Regina High School.
“It was very important for my girls to go into the playoffs in this manner,” said coach Rachel Mazza. “They needed that confidence boost before going off and facing a Staten Island team. Hopefully, it will help them rise to the occasion.”
Preston showed a lot of strength in its win over St. Catharine’s, thanks largely in part to Kaitlyn Brown, who pitched another gem of a game.
“She has been really great this year,” said Mazza. “We are going to really be relying on Devynn Abbatte in our first playoff game against Notre Dame, but Kaitlyn is going to be an important asset to us if we move on into the playoffs.”
Brown received help from offensive stars Laura Montalto, a freshman, and Jennifer Martin, the team’s captain and senior.
“They are our one-two punch out there,” noted Mazza, who also pointed to Megan Burke, as a threat with the bat since coming back from academic ineligibility late in the season.
“Thank God we got her,” Mazza continued. “She has come up with some big key hits. We are going to need her bat out there.”
But most importantly, Preston beat SCA and clinched the title with their defense, most importantly Nicole Caviglano, who made a Derek Jeter play at shortstop, grabbing the ball in the hole and making a 360-degree turn, setting her feet and making an amazing throw to first for an out.
“We lost our holiday tournament because of errors,” Mazza said, referencing a difficult start to the softball season. “I talked to the girls after that loss and reminded them that defense wins games. They bought into the idea and really tightened up on defense; getting the job done.”
According to Mazza, an assortment of close games were won because of strong defensive efforts; a stark contrast from how the team played earlier in the year.
In their final game, offense won out. Having already clinched with a win over SCA, Preston went out and beat Spellman 16-9 to close out the regular season with a 16-2 record.
Preston advances to the playoffs this week as the #1 seed from the Bronx, taking on Notre Dame, the #4 seed in Staten Island. The Panthers have never made it past the first round before.
“Staten Island is just a different brand of baseball,” said Mazza. “Their pitching is phenomenal. We just need to get over that mental block and play like we are capable of.”
Mazza is confident in her team’s chances, but no matter how well they do, the Preston coach will be happy either way, stating, “It’s been an exciting year; the best I ever experienced as a head coach at Preston.”