By Five Boro Sports
Sheila San Andres was a self-described “girly-girl.” She was a dancer, too, in many forms — jazz, hip-hop, tap and ballet. San Andres was definitely not a softball player.
Two years ago, as a freshman at the brand-new High School of Construction in Ozone Park, San Andres tried out for the team. The only problem was she was sporting long nails.
“I didn’t know how to catch a ball,” San Andres said. “The first time I caught a ball, I broke my nail. Ever since then, I learned how to catch a ball.”
It’s hard to believe that was just two years ago. Now, San Andres hasn’t just traded in her ballet shoes for cleats, she has become one of the top windmill pitchers in PSAL Class B, if not the entire city.
Every other player on Construction has a similar story. None of them played softball before entering the school, but the Red Hawks are 9-0, all in routs, and possibly on the verge of earning the top seed in the ‘B’ playoffs.
“We’re surprised this year,” Coach Marco Migliaccio said. “They’re learning as we’re going.”
Last year was Construction’s first as a varsity team and, since the school was only in its second year, the Red Hawks were entirely freshmen and sophomores. They still went 13-4 in Queens III-B and fell to eventual city champion Manhattan Center in the quarterfinals.
This year, they own wins against ‘A’ teams Bryant and Environmental Studies and pushed Manhattan Center to the brink.
Construction’s emergence has been remarkable. Migliaccio says it has come through hard work. The Red Hawks practice three to four hours a day, sometimes as much as seven days a week. When it rains, they’re back in the school, running stairs, running in the gym, running in the hallways. They do throwing drills and toss around a medicine ball.
“Sometimes it’s kind of hard,” junior second baseman and pitcher Cynthia Vasquez said. “But you like it so much, you’re willing to do anything to get better.”
Added sophomore third baseman Alyssa Burke: “We all push to be the best. We want to achieve in softball.”
Migliaccio has even started his own travel ball squad, RichHaven, made up primarily of his players at Construction.
“All the top teams play year-round,” Migliaccio said. “You gotta do that.”
Migliaccio coached softball at Harry Van Arsdale before coming to Construction when the school opened. He’s been around baseball for a long time, playing for New Utrecht and then Brooklyn College, and also teaches windmill pitching. It’s no surprise that the Red Hawks have five capable hurlers after San Andres, their ace.
“He got half the team to actually know what a softball was,” said sophomore Ashley Burke, Alyssa’s twin sister. “It’s all because of him.”
Construction’s success, Migliaccio said, is based on pitching and defense. Its offense relies upon small ball and putting pressure on defenses. But the Red Hawks excel at throwing the ball and catching it. San Andres, who has used those leg muscles she got from dancing, is 5-0 with a 0.30 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 23 innings.
“She’s really gotten better,” sophomore catcher Amanda Garcia said. “She’s really easy to communicate with. She throws a lot harder.”
Garcia has a gun behind the plate, too. It’s something she said she worked on constantly and Migliaccio touts her catching ability. The whole infield — first baseman Evelyn Grossi, Vasquez and sophomore twin sisters Ashley and Alyssa Burke, who make up the left field of the infield — is solid in the field and at the plate. Junior center fielder Antoinette Lisena is hitting .750 and has stolen 23 bases.
“They all bring something to the table,” Migliaccio said.
The Red Hawks are the odds-on favorite to win PSAL Class B this season, but they’re also thinking about the future. When asked whether they will move up to ‘A’ next season, Migliaccio said, “definitely.” Construction wants to challenge itself against the best the city has to offer. After all, every single player is back in 2010.
“At some points, you could be sick and tired of it,” San Andres said. “But we want to be the best. We love it.”