Defending champion James Madison has Hill to climb

Jeff Meltzer almost fell out of his chair. A few weeks ago, he logged onto PSAL.org to look at his James Madison softball team’s roster for this season. There he saw senior windmiller Kayla Hill’s name on the inactive list.

The same Hill who was last year’s New York Post All-City Player of the Year. The same Hill who twirled a gem to end Tottenville’s six-year reign atop the PSAL in the ‘A’ city championship game.

“When I first saw it I was like, ‘What?!’” Meltzer said with a laugh.

As it turns out, it was just a clerical error. Meltzer had misplaced Hill’s parental permission slip. But his reaction sums up just how important Hill is to the defending champion Knights.

“Without Kayla Hill, we’re an under-.500 team,” Meltzer said. “Madison would really come back to the pack.”

The Knights lost five senior starters from the team that won the first title by anyone not named Tottenville since 2003. But they still have Hill, the city’s best pitcher, and that, as Meltzer says “evens everything out.”

Madison also returns Hill’s co-captain Becky Ganley, who had the game-winning, diving catch against Tottenville in the championship game. She’ll move over to center fielder in place of graduated Brittany O’Brien and add to the Knights’ strength up the middle. Junior Samantha Rodriguez is back at catcher and budding superstar junior Gina Gerone returns to shortstop. Sophomore Breanna DePasquale, who saw time last year, slips into the second base slot, formerly patrolled by Caitlyn Ganley.

Newcomers will be at the corners – in the infield and outfield. Junior Jennie Hosty will take over first base from graduated Nikki Panaro, who hit the game-tying solo home run against the Pirates last season. At third base will be precocious freshman Cheyenne Tatesure, the heir to Hill’s throne in the circle.

“I think she’s gonna be very good,” Meltzer said of Tatesure.

There are three players – junior Danielle Mulle, sophomore Lauren Pimpinella and freshman Samantha Rehill – competing for the left and right field jobs.

Meltzer has been away from the team for 11 days down in Florida, because his brother had fallen ill and died this past week. But he’s anxious to get back into the swing of things. Softball, the second-year coach said, keeps him feeling young and he believes this group has what it takes to be a top contender again.

“They’re making strides,” he said. “We’re certainly nowhere near where we were last year at the beginning of the year. Certainly at the end of the year I think we’ll be a very good team.”

Last season’s team was readymade to challenge Tottenville. This one is more of a work in progress. That fact is not lost on Hill.

“I can honestly say that as each practice passes we get better and better,” she said. “This year I’m seriously seeing how much [practice] pays off, because not everyone is as experienced. … Last year we were a bunch of girls that played together pretty much for three years, if not more, so we were meshed together very well.”

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