PSAL Brooklyn A softball preview: Bushwick building off successful seasons

Pitcher Kayla Hill will be counted on to lead James Madison to the PSAL championships again this year.

“Without Kayla Hill, we’re an under-.500 team,” said coach Jeff Meltzer. “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.

Bushwick is coming off one of its best seasons ever and perhaps the biggest win in program history, a PSAL Class A first-round playoff victory over New Dorp of Staten Island, the city’s best softball borough.

But coach Pat Moyse says the expectations have lowered a bit since 2010. The Tigers graduated six starters and he and assistant coach Robert Cortez have to rebuild a bit with young players now.

“We’re not Madison or Tottenville,” the fourth-year head coach said.

“We don’t get lucky and get these girls that come in and have played for years. We have to sit there and we have to mold them into ball players.”

Maria De La Cruz, who missed last season for medical reasons, will step into the void left in the circle left by Maria Guerna. It’ll be her first year pitching, but Moyse says so far, so good. The coach expects a breakout season from power-hitting, slick-fielding first baseman Kassandra Steward and Bushwick will be leaning heavily on junior shortstop Bianca Cruz this year.

Grand Street Campus will have a veteran group, but coach Andre Johnson is unsure of how it will come together.

The Wolves do have back pitcher Laurissa Mota, catcher Veronica Rodriguez and Chelsea Andino, who will slide over from second base to shortstop from a team that went 6-9 and fell in the first round of the playoffs. So they will be experienced up the middle.

“Pitcher and catcher are the two most important positions,” Johnson said. “So we’ll see.”