One of the defining characteristics of a good team in any sport is its ability to “win ugly.”
Frankford baseball surely passed that litmus test on Monday afternoon.
The Pioneers improved to a perfect 6-0 in Public League Division A play with an 11-6 victory at rival George Washington, but they’ll have to improve their defensive prowess if they want to become the truly “special” team that head coach Juan Namnun envisioned before the season started.
“Frustration gets very high when you start making routine plays not look routine,” Namnun said after watching his team make four errors in the win over Washington. “We were pressing really hard for some reason when we didn’t have to, which was strange to see because we’re a very good defensive team. On the flip side, if a good team can’t also take advantage of another team’s mistakes then you probably shouldn’t be winning the game to begin with.”
Namnun was referring to the Eagles’ defensive woes, which were somehow more egregious than Frankford’s. Washington committed seven errors — six of which occurred in the first, third and fourth innings when the Pioneers scored all 11 of their runs.
However, the main difference in the two sides is that growing pains were expected for a very young Washington team with a first-year coach; consequently, Frankford brought back eight of nine starters from last year’s team that won the Public League championship, so the mental lapses with the gloves were somewhat surprising.
Luckily for Frankford fans, their team’s veteran players found a way to win despite scratching out the same number of hits as Washington errors. When the Eagles provided extra opportunities for Frankford, the Pioneers capitalized by stealing eight bases and constantly putting themselves in scoring position. Leadoff hitter Augusto Ortega accounted for half of his team’s steals (he’s now a perfect 17-for-17 in stolen-base attempts this season), reaching base four times and scoring three runs. Ortega’s the quickest player on a very fast Frankford team, which proved to be the X-factor as the two rivals took turns trading defensive gaffes early in the game.
“The one thing we do have is a ton of speed, and we emphasize in practice all the time how we need to take that extra base when we have runners on,” Namnun said. “Those are the kinds of things we need to capitalize on if we’re having a down offensive day, as was the case today even though we put up eleven runs.”
Regarding Ortega, his senior centerfielder who also tossed two shutout innings in relief, Namnun had nothing but praise to offer: “The standard rule of baseball is you want your leadoff hitter to cause chaos on the basepaths, and he may be the fastest player in the city. Even if another team knows he’s going to steal, it’s still going to be hard to throw him out. He’s one of our best hitters period, and he’s batting over .500 on the season because his routine ground balls have a great chance to go for singles.”
The game was close through three innings, with Frankford holding a 4-3 lead over Washington (2-5 record in Division A games). Then, the wheels fell off in the top of the fourth when eight straight batters reached base for the Pioneers — two hits, two walks, two errors, a fielder’s choice and a catcher’s-interference call on Washington’s Dean Grande. Before long, 11 batters had come to the plate for Frankford and they suddenly held an 11-3 lead. The Eagles added three more in the bottom half of the inning, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.
“Defensively, we just have to come together,” Washington coach Ken Geiser said. “I don’t think we’re panicking at all … we just don’t have the experience right now. Some of the mistakes we made were real easy plays, and we can’t afford to give anyone, let alone a team as good as Frankford, six or seven outs in an inning.”
Despite obvious growing pains in the field, the Eagles are hitting the ball well. They didn’t start one senior on Monday, yet the lineup’s first six hitters all reached base at least two times. The team’s best player, junior Jake Wright, launched a fourth-inning double and also crushed deep fly-ball outs to center and right in the first and sixth innings. The do-it-all Wright also got the start on the mound, and despite being on the hill for all of Frankford’s 11 runs, he threw the ball much more effectively than his line score indicated.
“Listen, they’re great kids, and I’m not mad at them at all,” Geiser said. “We’re really hitting the ball well, and I think after today they believe they belong on the same field as Frankford, which may not have been true before the season started. What I really liked was that in innings four through seven we played good baseball instead of folding up and going home. I have to hand it to our guys, because they kept plugging along and didn’t give up until the last out.”
Namnun agreed with his counterpart’s assessment.
“They’re the kind of team that you look at their record before the game and you just throw it out the window,” Namnun said. “They always play us this tough, even if they’re having a down season. I expect once they mature that they will be very, very good next year, and they’re going to continue to give us fits because they have good, quality ballplayers.”
With a major bullet dodged Monday against his team’s archrival, Namnun is still hoping to see his team put together a complete effort, which will be a combination of crisp defense, solid pitching (senior Hector Cerda tossed five innings to get the victory) and strong offensive play (senior third baseman Brandon Gonzalez collected two more hits to keep his season average above .700, which Namnun said before the game was “the highest of any player in the entire state”).
“Today was absolutely our roughest day defensively, and we still have a lot of cleaning up to do before we realize our full potential,” Namnun said. “The good thing about this team is that these seniors cannot stand anything less than almost perfect. These guys know how to push themselves to get better, and when we get everyone on the same page it’s really going to be an exciting time.”
So would Namnun change his preseason assessment of Frankford based on some of the sloppy play he saw on Monday?
“Would I change it? No, because I still do believe we’re that top-level team,” he said. “We have the opportunity and the pieces to be really special, and things are going well; we just haven’t put it all together yet. We’re not there yet, but once we put those pieces together, we will be.” ••EndFragment