Veteran Preston looking to power way to Archdiocesan softball title

Preston’s approach will change. It’s goal however remains the same.

The Panthers softball team has suffered heart-breaking losses to St. Joseph by the Sea in consecutive CHSAA Archdiocesan championship games. They believe this is their year to claim the school’s first ever crown with its talented core now seasoned veterans and a lineup with more power than past seasons.

“It’s an angry feeling, very angry,” junior catcher Danielle Kibler said of reflecting on the title game losses. “Just want to get it back this year. Think this could be it.”

Preston’s No. 3 hitter is one of four juniors who started on the varsity as freshmen and know what it feels like to be so close to their goal. Ace Julianna Orrico, who tossed two perfect games and hit .500 last season, leadoff hitter and shortstop Madeline Giannini and Victoria Rivera return along with Kibler. They are determined to erase the memories of a 1-0 defeat as sophomores and an extra inning loss last season in the diocesan final.

“I think this can be our year,” Giannini said. “We are older, stronger. I think we can do it.”

They will try to do so behind the powerful right arm of Orrico, one of the city’s top pitchers, and a line up that will no longer rely on small ball to win. The addition of sophomore Brianna Rodriguez, who has already homered this season, creates a first five hitters that includes Giannini, Orrico, Kibler and Bianca Mastropietro that will be tough for opposing pitchers to navigate.

“It just makes the lineup so much more powerful,” Preston coach Rachel Mazza said. “We have power hitters now and I’m not use to that. I’m use to the little scrappy game. We don’t have to play that any more.”

She did have to replace most of her outfield with the graduation of Megan Kelly, also the team’s No. 2 starter, and Frankie Primiani. Melissa Knecht and Kaylin Benitez will step into their shoes in the outfield.

Freshman Ashley Puig takes over at second base. Rivera is the second starter in the circle and provides a contrast in styles to the hard throwing Orrico.

Orrico has already tossed a 12-strikout gem against new CHSAA Bronx/Westchester rival Kennedy Catholic. She said she’s improved her rise ball and curve and is looking to add more speed to her pitchers. Mazza believes her just being a year older and stronger could lead to special season from her.

“If she pitches like that all year we are not going to have any problems,” Mazza said.

She and her team are hoping it all means a different feeling late in the season this time around and something to celebrate.

“To finally have that banner in our gym would mean everything to the entire team,” Orrico said.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.

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