They did it twice this year, and last week was no exception.
The Frankford Pioneers baseball team — which finished second in the Public League Division A while averaging 9.8 runs per game — crushed Northeast High School in the Public League quarterfinals on May 27.
Northeast has had a tough season against the Pioneers. Frankford whipped the Vikings on April 21, 11-4, and then manhandled them again on May 13, 16-5.
In last Friday’s quarterfinal playoff game, though, Frankford really put it to Northeast. The Pioneers torched the Vikings with 17 runs before the mercy rule took effect (a lead of 15 runs after three innings or 10 runs after five innings), sending the team to an early exit from the game — and ending Northeast’s season — courtesy of the 17-0 drubbing.
“A while ago I told the guys to stop waiting for the fourth and fifth innings to get going,” said Pioneers coach Juan Namnun. “We’ve been doing a good job of jumping on teams early the last month, and we just continued doing that today.”
Indeed they did.
The Pioneers rocked Vikings starting lefty pitcher Tyler Layfield for six runs in the first inning and four in the second before he was pulled. The Pioneers did not stop there, continuing their onslaught with singles, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases and capitalizing on errors while piling up 17 runs.
The Pioneers were just as impressive on the defensive side of the ball. It started with pitcher Omar Cruz, now 7-1, who allowed no runs and just four hits, all singles.
“He hadn’t thrown in seven days, so he was well-rested,” Namnun explained. “And I thought that if we won today, he’d be rested and ready to go for next week’s game.”
Cruz acknowledged that pitching in the top of the second inning with a six-run cushion, and then returning to the mound in the third inning ahead by 17 runs, made his day easier.
“I just went out, played my game and threw strikes,” said Cruz, a junior. “But it’s definitely easier to pitch with a big lead.”
Cruz helped his own cause at the plate by going 3-3 with three RBIs.
After Frankford’s Augusto Ortega grounded out to the shortstop to lead off the bottom of the first, Layfield walked junior Ricky Alvarez, who stole second base and scored on a Cruz single. After Layfield got cleanup hitter Kevin Montero to fly out to center for the second out, five straight Pioneers reached base with an error, single, double, home run and a walk. The home run was a two-run shot over the leftfield fence by senior Ricardo Calcano.
“We take batting practice every day and we were actually expecting to face their righty Lynn Howard, but he’s injured,” explained Namnun. “Instead we saw a lefty, but we adjusted.”
The bottom of the second inning was when things really turned ugly for the Vikings, who surrendered five singles, one double, four walks — there also was an error and a balk — and an opposite-field, three-run homer off the bat of senior Israel Diaz. All of that produced 11 runs.
“I just saw a pitch that I liked and put a swing on it,” Diaz said with a smile after the game.
Winning by comfortable margins is nothing new to the Pioneers, who finished in second place in Division A with a Public League record of 12-2 and an overall record of 15-4. Including the playoffs, the Pioneers scored 10 or more runs in 13 games and won by an average point differential of 7.8 runs while riding a nine-game win streak.
The Vikings had a rough season — they finished last in Division A, going 2-12 in Public League play. They averaged 3.4 runs per game but allowed an average of 11.2. They were shut out three times and surrendered 10 or more runs 11 times. They also lost 12 of their last 13 games.
Frankford faced a much more evenly matched opponent in Central on Tuesday, after the Times went to press this week. Central got through the quarterfinals much like Frankford did, breezing past Franklin Towne Charter, 15-2, with the mercy rule taking effect after the fifth inning.
A rematch of last year’s Public League championship, in which Frankford fell to Central, 7-3, could turn out to be much like Frankford’s win over Northeast. Though finishing third in Division A, Central did not strike fear into the Pioneers, who soundly beat them twice by scores of 15-5 and 16-7.
If Frankford’s bats continue to stay hot, beating Central should be no problem.
“It doesn’t matter who we face,” said Diaz. “A pitcher is a pitcher.”
Although the Pioneers seem unstoppable — they hadn’t lost since April 29 while outscoring and outpitching every team they faced — Cruz remained focused on the road ahead.
“We really came together as a team and we’re playing well,” said Cruz. “I hope we keep it up and continue to move onward and upward.” ••
Reporter Dave Nescio can be reached at Dave.Nescio@gmail.com
In other Public League playoff action:
Northeast, 10; Abraham Lincoln, 9: Northeast High School rallied for eight hits and 10 runs to beat Abraham Lincoln in the first round of the Public League playoffs on May 23. Lincoln finished its season 3-8 in league play and 4-11 overall.
Central, 12; Samuel Fels, 2: After dominating the Public League Division C — claiming first place — Samuel Fels lost, 12-2, to Central in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs. Samuel Fels finished the year 11-0 in league play and 12-2 overall.
George Washington, 11; Esperanza, 4: George Washington defeated Esperanza in the Public League quarterfinals on May 27. Washington seniors Bryan Reiss and Dan Meade homered, and freshman John Santos knocked in three runs. Pitcher Tom Morano went 3-for-4 with one RBI.
Washington is slated to face Central in the Public League semifinals on Tuesday, but the game was played after the Times went to press this week. ••