Pioneers claim Public League title

Swel­ter­ing tem­per­at­ures and ex­treme hu­mid­ity post­poned last week’s highly an­ti­cip­ated Pub­lic League base­ball cham­pi­on­ship game, for­cing the play­ers of Frank­ford and Thomas Edis­on high schools to side­line their en­thu­si­asm one more day. 

The Pi­on­eers were slated to face Thomas Edis­on in the title bout on June 1 at Rich­ie Ash­burn Field in South Phil­adelphia. But when the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia an­nounced early classroom dis­missals be­cause of an ex­cess­ive heat ad­vis­ory that af­ter­noon, the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game was put on hold.

“We were al­most here on the bus when we heard it was can­celed,” ex­plained Frank­ford left­field­er Hec­tor Cerda. “We got a little up­set at first, be­cause we were really pumped up, but it was can­celed. What can you do?”

For the Pi­on­eers, it was worth the wait. 

Twenty-one hours after the ori­gin­al game time, Frank­ford ral­lied past Edis­on, 5-4 — this time in beau­ti­ful 80-de­gree weath­er — for its first Pub­lic League title since 2008 and 16th in the pro­gram’s his­tory. 

“We knew that it was go­ing to be a fight, but they were up for it today,” said Frank­ford coach Juan Namnun. “I mean, I knew what we have and I knew what they (Edis­on) have. I knew it was go­ing to be a really tough game. We had to come out and make the plays, and we did.”

Thursday’s cham­pi­on­ship game was pic­tur­esque in a way that base­ball fans could truly ap­pre­ci­ate. The back­drop of the city sky­line could be seen be­hind right-cen­ter field, and the hot but breezy af­ter­noon was the per­fect at­mo­sphere on the field. 

Both squads en­joyed a wealth of sup­port. Fans shouted from the stands, soun­ded fog­horns, shook noise­makers and proudly dis­played their homemade signs and ban­ners. 

They had plenty to cheer about. 

The game was en­ter­tain­ing, if some­what sloppy for a show­down between cham­pi­on­ship teams. There were 12 er­rors between the two squads, res­ult­ing in six un­earned runs. Des­pite some quirky plays, the teams did an­swer when op­por­tun­ity knocked. Take, for ex­ample, Edis­on pitch­er Nate Coron­ado’s at­tempt to pick off Cerda at second base in the fourth in­ning; he over­threw the ball by a mile, al­low­ing Cerda to score. 

Cerda ac­tu­ally scored two of Frank­ford’s five runs for the win. The left­field­er and No. 7 bat­ter was 3-for-3 and also had two RBIs.

“I was very, very happy. I felt so happy to help my team score,” said a gleam­ing Cerda, a Ju­ni­ata res­id­ent who also pitches for the Pi­on­eers. “It feels real good! I’m proud of my­self. I did a good job at the plate. I’m very proud of my team. They did everything they were sup­posed to do. This is what we wanted all year.”

Frank­ford’s ace pitch­er, Omar Cruz, had a sol­id per­form­ance on the mound. Des­pite al­low­ing 12 hits, he fanned sev­en bat­ters and walked none. 

“I was con­fid­ent com­ing in today, but I was also very nervous,” said Cruz, a 5-foot-9 righthander. “They have a really good team. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to win.

“I think the wind helped a lot,” he ad­ded. “It made my pitches move all over, curving in­side and out­side.”

Edis­on put con­stant pres­sure on the Pi­on­eers. In the fifth, they had run­ners on first and second with no outs, but Frank­ford’s sol­id de­fense was able to re­tire the next three bat­ters.

A sim­il­ar situ­ation arose in the top of the sev­enth. The Owls were down, 5-2. Edis­on’s Nate Coron­ado singled, stole second, and scored on a rock­et hit by seni­or Johnny Pa­gan. Fel­low seni­or Mar­tin No­lasco nailed an­oth­er single. Miguel Del­gado was next to the plate, hit­ting a ground­er for a 6-4-3 double play. With Pa­gan on third, Jonath­an Mal­don­ado lif­ted a single to shal­low left­field for an RBI. 

Sud­denly Frank­ford — which cap­tured the lead in the second in­ning and nev­er lost it — was cling­ing to a one-run lead with the go-ahead run at home plate for Edis­on.  

Cruz re­cor­ded the fi­nal out of the game, fan­ning Edis­on’s Lender Vega with a swift curve­ball. 

The crowd erup­ted. 

Swarms of Frank­ford play­ers and fans rushed the pitch­er’s mound, jump­ing in cel­eb­ra­tion. 

“I feel great! I nev­er felt like this be­fore,” said Cruz after the win. “I’ve been say­ing that we were go­ing to make it here since last year. 

“When we lost the cham­pi­on­ship to Cent­ral, I was really up­set,” he con­tin­ued, re­fer­ring to Frank­ford’s 7-3 loss in last year’s fi­nals. “This year we came all the way through.”

The Pi­on­eers’ re­cord earned them an ap­pear­ance in the Dis­trict 12 Class AAAA cham­pi­on­ship on June 3 against Monsignor Bon­ner. But the game brought Frank­ford back to Earth.

Fi­nal score: Monsignor Bon­ner, 7; Frank­ford, 2. 

Frank­ford re­cor­ded four hits, in­clud­ing an RBI double cour­tesy of pitch­er Brandon Gonza­lez, but it also re­cor­ded five er­rors, al­low­ing Bon­ner to claim its second con­sec­ut­ive Dis­trict 12 Class AAAA title. 

Des­pite the loss, the Pi­on­eers qual­i­fied for the State Class AAAA Tour­na­ment but fell, 10-3, to Con­es­toga in the first round on Monday. Frank­ford had six hits. Cerda went 2-for-3 and had one RBI. 

The loss closed out Frank­ford’s sea­son. The Pi­on­eers fin­ished 19-6 over­all, outscor­ing op­pon­ents by 118 runs, in­clud­ing four shutouts. They rode an 11-game win­ning streak throughout the second half of the sea­son en route to their Pub­lic League title. 

“It’s gravy. I mean, from here on out, we’re just hav­ing fun,” Namnun said after win­ning the league cham­pi­on­ship last week. “This was our goal when we star­ted the year. We made it.” ••

Sports ed­it­or Melissa Yerkov can be reached at my­

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