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 firstname.lastname@example.org