Tiffany Irrera’s in-game responsibilities remain the same. The Bridgeport-bound windmiller will be Bishop Kearney’s unquestioned ace and one of the top pitchers in the city. But there are added duties this time around. Irrera is just one of three seniors on a Tigers team filled with juniors looking to repeat as CHSAA Brooklyn division champs.
“I feel I have to set the example for everyone else,” she said. “If I try to play the best I can, then everyone will try to rise up.”
It was hard to be better than she was a year ago. The Tigers won an unbeaten division title, their first crown since 2004. Using a wide array of pitches and movement, she surrendered just two runs in the team’s four games against rivals Fontbonne Hall and St. Edmund. Kearney fell to St. Francis Prep in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens semifinals. Irrera, not a particularly hard thrower, has fine tuned what made her so successful.
“She’s got the full scholarship and she is really working hard,” Kearney assistant coach Nick Trani said.
Added junior Amanda Sinodinos: “She gets us motivated.”
The Tigers offense could be more dynamic then it was a year ago, when it relied on aggressive base running and timely hitting. Irrera, senior first third baseman Allura Pugliese, shortstop Brianna Robles and Sinodinos, who will play first, should provide a team lineup with power.
“This one can hit,” Trani said of Sinodinos. “If she lays off the high ones she is awesome.”
Kearney’s biggest improvement will be in the speed department. Sophomore outfielders Allison Gasparino and Francesca Ingargiola will provide plenty of range and added quickness at the top of the order. Returning second baseman Alyssa McDonald, a senior, can also run and will be Irrera’s back up in the circle. Senior Katie Dowd will see time at the corners.
“We are a different kind of team because we have a lot of speed,” Irrera said. “We should be able to create a lot of runs.”
Last year Kearney also had a large turnover, but had seniors filling in the open spots. Trani believes this season’s version will again rely on pitching on defense, but still has some tightening up to do. Irrera said she has faith in ability of the new players around her to give the Tigers a chance to repeat and they feel the same way.
“We want to follow in their footsteps,” Sinodinos said. “Like last year.”
Fontbonne Hall lost two of the best players in the city in pitcher Ashley Schirripa and shortstop Corine Fitzgibbons, who coach Frank Marinello repeatedly called the best player in the borough. The Bonnies will be without 11 seniors from a team that lost to Archbishop Molloy in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens semifinals and will have a bit of a different identity without its two sluggers.
“They should be a team that should be able to put the ball in play,” Marinello said. “It’s a little different. Doesn’t me you can’t win.”
Senior first baseman Rebecca Muccigrosso will move into the cleanup spot with senior right fielder Elena DeSantis, who has some speed behind her. Junior Jenna Nixon will so be in the middle. She will be a bit of a utility player for Fontbonne in the field. Nixon can catch, play second and also pitch.
The Bonnies will turn to three-year varsity player Michelle Fioto in the circle. Junior Danielle Powell could turn into the team’s most complete hitter and speedy junior centerfielder Jackie Mitchell will hit leadoff.
“She can hit the cover off the ball, “ Marinello said of Powell.
St. John’s Prep and first-year head coach Mark Surdyka have just four players returning, but a quality group moving up from the JV, which he coached the last two seasons. Senior Caitlin Nerich will be thrust into the No. 1 starter’s roll with last year’s ace sophomore Taylor Quadrino academically ineligible to start. Nerich, who can also play short, possesses multiple pitches and some speed.
Senior Brandi Lekakos will bat cleanup and play centerfield. She’s someone Surdyka describes as being able to “rip it.” She, along with Nerich and senior Alexa Moore, who can hit for contact and power, will make up a solid middle of the order. Junior Amanda Morenzi, who can play third or right field, will provide good protection behind them. Lauren Roeder will be one of the team’s most complete hitters. Chanel Rojas and Stephanie Rendon are both up from the JV to fill in spots in the outfield
“This team will have the guts to actually pull forward and pull out some tough ball games,” Surdyka said.