Northeast Times

Eyes on the prize

— Reign­ing Pub­lic League champ Frank­ford is poised to re­peat, but how will the rest of the sea­son un­fold?

Start­Frag­ment

After an un­ex­pec­tedly mild winter, the beau­ti­ful spring weath­er got here a little bit early this year, something that the area’s high school base­ball teams are bound to ap­pre­ci­ate. In­stead of be­ing con­fined to prac­tice in­doors as tends to be the case in early March, teams have been able to workout out­doors, which will  pre­pare them for the fierce com­pet­i­tion that is already un­der­way on dia­monds across the North­east.

Frank­ford re­mains the cream of the crop, while Arch­bish­op Ry­an looks to have its third straight sol­id sea­son des­pite the loss of some key seni­ors. Fath­er Judge and Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln are poised for turn­around years, while George Wash­ing­ton boasts a first-year coach and North­east enters a re-build­ing sea­son.

What can you ex­pect from your fa­vor­ite neigh­bor­hood squad? Here’s a closer look at six area base­ball teams.

 

PHIL­ADELPHIA PUB­LIC LEAGUE

Frank­ford

Last sea­son: 12-2 over­all

Frank­ford head coach Juan Namnun thinks this sea­son has the po­ten­tial to be very spe­cial, which is cer­tainly omin­ous news for the rest of the Pub­lic League.

After ap­pear­ing in the league cham­pi­on­ship game in 2010 and win­ning it last sea­son, the Pi­on­eers re­turn eight of nine starters in 2012.

As usu­al, the Pi­on­eers are loaded. They re­turn five Daily News All-City re­turnees: seni­or center­field­er Au­gusto Or­tega, seni­or pitch­er/in­field­er Omar Cruz, seni­or shortstop Ricky Al­varez, seni­or out­field­er/pitch­er Hec­tor Cerda and seni­or third base­man/pitch­er Brandon Gonza­lez. All of these play­ers have been ma­jor parts of the last two Frank­ford teams and re­turn for their seni­or cam­paigns with eyes again on the ul­ti­mate prize.

“Get­ting to the cham­pi­on­ship two years ago as fresh­men and sopho­mores was neat for those guys, sort of an un­ex­pec­ted sur­prise,” Namnun said. “They got a taste in their mouths what it took to get to the cham­pi­on­ship and they came out last year with a real drive to win it last year. But we aren’t sat­is­fied. Even with the suc­cess they’ve had, their de­sire to get bet­ter and con­tin­ue play­ing at that high level has only in­creased. We’re in for a fun ride,”

If be­ing led by ex­per­i­enced seni­ors wasn’t enough, the Pi­on­eers also boast ju­ni­or first base­man Kev­in Montero, a tail­or-made power hit­ter that has already been at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from ma­jor league scouts and Di­vi­sion-I col­leges.

“Kev­in has fant­ast­ic size and power, and ob­vi­ously he can hit the ball a mile,” Namnun said. “The sky’s the lim­it for him.”

Ma­jor chal­lenges for this vet­er­an team will be not to over­look any op­pon­ents, which Namnun ad­mit­ted happened twice last sea­son in its two losses, both to Mas­ter­man; also, the coach wants his team to come out and get on oth­er teams early, as op­posed to last year when they let op­pon­ents hang tight.

“Last year it would take us two to three in­nings to get go­ing,” Namnun ex­plained. “We’ve worked a lot on be­ing ag­gress­ive early, and that means we need to hit the ball hard, get on base and score runs, and that starts right in the first in­ning.

“We at­tacked this off­season with a pur­pose,” he con­tin­ued. “These guys are ready.”

George Wash­ing­ton

Last sea­son: 7-7

After win­ning two play­off games last sea­son, Wash­ing­ton is back with some new faces, most not­ably its head coach.

Ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Ken Geiser has stepped in to take the place of Calv­in Jones, who de­cided about a month ago he’d be un­able to re­turn to the Eagles’ bench this sea­son. Geiser, a former Wash­ing­ton base­ball play­er and a 1979 gradu­ate of the school, looks for­ward to the chal­lenge of re­pla­cing Jones, as well as the six seni­ors that de­par­ted from last year’s team.

“It’s been a very busy time, but a fun kind of busy,” Geiser said. “We have a lot of good, young kids that have been will­ing to put in the ne­ces­sary work in or­der to main­tain the suc­cess that we’ve had here in the past.”

Geiser said that Wash­ing­ton’s sea­son will be made or broken by two things: the team’s pitch­ing, as well as the ma­tur­ity of young play­ers that will need to take on big­ger roles this sea­son.

Ju­ni­or Jake Wright is the Eagles’ top re­turn­er, a power­ful pres­ence in the lineup that will spend time at first base and on the mound. He is a Daily News All-City re­turnee and can mash the ball as good as any hit­ter in the league.

“Jake hit five home runs alone his fresh­man year,” Geiser said. “I just hope he gets pitched to.”

Oth­er key re­turn­ing play­ers are seni­or third base­man/catch­er Dean Grande, seni­or out­field­er/pitch­er Manny Mar­tinez and sopho­more middle in­field­er/pitch­er John San­tos.

“These kids are great, and their en­ergy for the sea­son has been even great­er,” Geiser said. “If we get the pitch­ing I think we’re cap­able of then I think we can go far and hang with the elite teams. It’s a wait-and-see type of thing, but I’m con­fid­ent.”

Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln

Last sea­son: 3-8

In 2011, there was cer­tainly more than meets the eye to the Lin­coln base­ball team. Out­siders see the Railsplit­ters’ 3-8 re­cord and im­me­di­ately dis­miss them as a Pub­lic League bot­tom-dwell­er; however, those close to the pro­gram will tell you how many close games the team was in last year.

Had a few of their one or two-run losses gone slightly dif­fer­ently, Lin­coln could have been a dan­ger­ous play­off con­tender. Now, in 2012, the fo­cus is on turn­ing those close games in­to wins; if this can be achieved, then the Railsplit­ters could be in for a spe­cial sea­son this spring.

“Our ex­pect­a­tions are high, and I think they should be,” head coach John Larsen said. “I al­ways set the bar as high as I can, and our guys are con­fid­ent. We were on the los­ing end of sev­er­al very close games last year. If we can man­u­fac­ture and pro­duce more runs this year by play­ing small ball, then I think those close losses turn in­to wins.”

Larsen only has three seni­ors on his roster, but don’t let it fool you: the Railsplit­ters are flush with ex­per­i­ence, boast­ing 10 battle-tested ju­ni­ors.

“We’re young, but at the same time our roster is not a very good in­dic­at­or of our ex­per­i­ence,” Larsen said. “Half of those ju­ni­ors have been with me since they were fresh­men, and be­cause of the good weath­er in March, we’ve been able to prac­tice on our own field out­doors. We’re more pre­pared that we’ve ever been.”

The home­field ad­vant­age will be huge for Lin­coln. The school un­veiled brand-new fa­cil­it­ies across the board two years ago, from a spark­ling new school build­ing to beau­ti­ful ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies. Linger­ing con­struc­tion is­sues pre­ven­ted Lin­coln from play­ing on their new base­ball field a year ago, but this sea­son they will con­sist­ently have ac­cess to their own dia­mond for the first time since 2006.

“The guys are out there on their lunch breaks, re­mov­ing weeds and rak­ing the in­field dirt,” Larsen said. “They re­mem­ber the days of when I had to spray paint bases for us to be able to prac­tice in the park­ing lot, so they’re tak­ing a lot of pride in the field. That will be a huge plus for us go­ing for­ward.”

Lin­coln’s key play­ers this sea­son will be seni­or center­field­er James Baldere and ju­ni­or second base­man Kev­in John­son, who will be coun­ted on to get on base as table-set­ters at the top of the lineup. Seni­or third base­man Jairo Bautista and ju­ni­or south­paw Dylan Burke will be the middle-of-the-or­der hit­ters re­lied on to knock in runs.

“If we can lim­it giv­ing free­bies to the oth­er team on de­fense and get on base in any way pos­sible,” Larsen said. “Then I think good things will hap­pen for us.”

North­east

Last sea­son: 2-12

North­east enters this sea­son as a team in re-build­ing mode, but head coach Sam Feld­man is ex­cited over what he’s seen so far.

“We’ve re-tooled and are com­pletely start­ing from scratch,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys with their eyes wide open, guys who are ex­cited for their chance. We’re mov­ing to Di­vi­sion B, so I’m not totally sure what to ex­pect, but I look for­ward to see­ing what we can do.”

The first play­er Feld­man told fans to keep an eye on is shortstop/pitch­er Daquan Bo­han­nan, a ju­ni­or trans­fer from Fur­ness that also plays quar­ter­back for North­east’s foot­ball team. As far as lead­er­ship goes, the Vik­ings will count on seni­or cap­tain and first base­man/pitch­er Howard Lynn, as well as third base­man Shahir Gates. Mi­chael Samarco and Luke Charry are re­turn­ing out­field­ers, while Feld­man said the team will be strong be­hind the plate with start­ing catch­er Manuel Dur­an and backup Frank Paulino.

Some oth­er new young faces to look out for are out­field­er Dav­id Mora, second base­man Devon Rodrig­uez and pitch­er/des­ig­nated hit­ter Steven Mar­tinez.

“So far, the at­ti­tude of these guys has been great and they are really work­ing hard to im­prove on last year’s re­cord,” Feld­man said. “The over­all en­thu­si­asm level has been fant­ast­ic. I think we’ll im­prove a lot more, which is our top pri­or­ity.”

PHIL­ADELPHIA CATH­OL­IC LEAGUE

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 8-4

Ry­an has brought the pro­gram back to Cath­ol­ic League prom­in­ence the past two sea­sons due in large part to fant­ast­ic seni­or lead­ers. With most of those guys gone, the pres­sure is cer­tainly on to sus­tain the re­cent string of suc­cess.

Two sea­sons ago, the Raid­ers over­achieved all the way to an ap­pear­ance in the Cath­ol­ic League title game. They fol­lowed that up last year with an im­press­ive 8-4 re­cord, largely due to the ef­forts of sev­en seni­ors, most not­ably shortstop Eric Frain (now at Gloucester County Ju­ni­or Col­lege) and pitch­er Kev­in Mack (Con­cor­dia Uni­versity). It’s un­clear if this cur­rent crop of play­ers will du­plic­ate the suc­cess of the last two sea­sons, but count Ry­an’s head coach as a be­liev­er.

“We lost some real ex­per­i­enced play­ers, and there’s no doubt that we’ll miss them,” Ron Ger­hart said. “But it’s high school ath­let­ics, so there’s al­ways go­ing to be turnover. We have guys that don’t have a ton of varsity ex­per­i­ence, but they’ve seen guys come be­fore them that really em­braced the chances they were giv­en, so why can’t they have the same type of suc­cess?”

Ger­hart will be count­ing on some multi-sport Ry­an ath­letes, as had been the case in the past with guys like Frain and Mack. Bas­ket­ball play­ers Kyle Slaw­ter (the team’s top re­turn­ing pitch­er) and Gage Ga­le­one (center­field), as well as Mike Anusky (the school’s start­ing quar­ter­back who is cur­rently re­hab­bing a torn men­is­cus in his knee) will need to make con­tri­bu­tions so that the Raid­ers’ re­cord does not dip.

Oth­er play­ers to keep an eye on will be ju­ni­or Dan Stahl, who is mov­ing from third base to take Frain’s spot at shortstop and ju­ni­or Kev­in Elmes, who is ex­pec­ted to be Ry­an’s no. 2 pitch­er be­hind Slaw­ter.

“This team has the tal­ent, but ob­vi­ously it’s all about prov­ing it out there on the field,” Ger­hart said. “We al­ways put an em­phas­is on play­ing small ball and be­ing pol­ished on de­fense, which is how we’ve suc­ceeded the last two years. These guys are start­ing to buy in­to that ap­proach, and I think we can sur­prise a few people.”

Fath­er Judge

Last sea­son: 4-8

Fath­er Judge head coach Tim Ginter found out last sea­son just how hum­bling a game base­ball can be. The Cru­saders came in­to the 2011 sea­son loaded with 10 seni­ors and had hoped to be a ma­jor con­tender in the Cath­ol­ic League, but in­jur­ies and un­der­achieve­ment saw Judge stumble to a 4-8 re­cord.

Now, with a clean slate, Ginter’s bunch hopes to re­turn to the top tier of the league.

“Last year was a dis­ap­point­ment, no doubt about it,” he said. “About the best thing to go our way was be­ing lucky enough to win a coin toss to host a home play­off game.”

Judge won that game, de­feat­ing Car­din­al O’Hara be­fore even­tu­ally suc­cumb­ing to league cham­pi­on Monsignor Bon­ner. Though they do lose two hand­fuls of seni­ors, Ginter is still ex­cited for sev­er­al re­turn­ing play­ers. Top pitch­er Rob Walms­ley, third base­man Tim Ross, shortstop John Hearn and center­field­er Corey Kream­er, who will be the de­fens­ive an­chor in the Judge out­field, will lead a new batch of seni­ors.

The team’s top re­turn­ing play­er is ju­ni­or Mike O’Han­lon, an hon­or­able men­tion Daily News All-City se­lec­tion a year ago when he hit bet­ter than .500 as a sopho­more. O’Han­lon is still work­ing his way back from a knee in­jury, and Ginter said he will ease his top hit­ter back slowly as a des­ig­nated hit­ter.

“I’ve told Mike that March is great, but he’s a big part of our team and we need him ready for the games that mat­ter in April and May,” the Judge boss said. “He’s a very gif­ted of­fens­ive play­er, and we ex­pect him to pick up where he left off in the middle of our lineup.”

After last sea­son’s dis­ap­point­ment, Judge hopes to fin­ish in the top four in their di­vi­sion this year; after that, Ginter knows that any­thing can hap­pen in the post­season.

“I tell the kids all the time that this game is built for fail­ure,” he said. “It’s how you re­act to that fail­ure that makes you what you are. Base­ball can be a hum­bling game, but their youth­ful ex­uber­ance gets me ex­cited every day. They want to get bet­ter, and so do I.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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