Still on top

— Frank­ford's base­ball team cap­tured its second straight league title led by a group of dom­in­ant seni­ors.

Frank­ford vs GAMP for Pub­lic League Cham­pi­on­ship in Base­ball. Frank­ford Holds the Pub­lic League Cham­pi­on­ship trophy, May 25, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Al­bert Schell)


After bull­doz­ing its way through the Pub­lic League base­ball sched­ule this sea­son, it was all but ex­pec­ted that the Frank­ford Pi­on­eers would cap­ture the team’s second con­sec­ut­ive cham­pi­on­ship.

So when the score­board read 2-0 Pi­on­eers after one-half in­ning in Fri­day’s title game, what was shock­ing was that the lead be­longed not to Frank­ford but to an­oth­er Pi­on­eers team.

Frank­ford’s op­pon­ent, the un­der­dog Gir­ard Aca­dem­ic Mu­sic Pro­gram (GAMP), are also called the Pi­on­eers, and the team nobody thought had a shot had jumped out to a two-run lead on an op­pos­ite-field home run by pitch­er Des­mond Drum­mond. Feed­ing off the pos­sib­il­ity of a mon­ster up­set, GAMP’s noisy sup­port­ers re­lent­lessly cheered for the im­prob­able.

But as is usu­ally the case with Frank­ford, or­der was re­stored al­most as fast as ad­versity crept in.

Pan­ic? This team? No chance.

The seni­or-laden, heav­ily-favored Pi­on­eers of Frank­ford bus­ted out for three runs in the bot­tom of the first as the first four bat­ters reached base, with runs scor­ing on an RBI double by seni­or right field­er Hec­tor Cerda and a two-run single by ju­ni­or first base­man Kev­in Montero.

Just like that, Frank­ford was in front again, and things would stay that way in an 8-3 win that ce­men­ted this par­tic­u­lar team as one of the all-time greats at the school.

“We knew we were go­ing to hit,” Cerda said after a vic­tory lap around the bases with Frank­ford’s cham­pi­on­ship trophy, the eighth this cen­tury for the Pi­on­eers. “If they can hit, then so can we. We came right back in that first in­ning and nev­er gave up.”

This cham­pi­on­ship was es­pe­cially sweet for the team’s eight seni­or starters who won the title last year as ju­ni­ors. Even with such a siz­able tar­get on their backs this year, the Pi­on­eers nev­er got com­pla­cent and lost only one league game all sea­son to Cent­ral, who was knocked out by GAMP in the semi­finals.

“I’m humbled, but I’d be ly­ing to you if I said I didn’t think we’d get here,” head coach Juan Namnun said after his team doused him with a cel­eb­rat­ory Gat­o­rade shower. “With the depth we have across the board and the way these guys con­duc­ted them­selves, I really be­lieved we had the po­ten­tial to be spe­cial.”

The game re­mained tight in­to the fourth with Frank­ford hold­ing a 3-2 ad­vant­age. After Frank­ford pitch­er Omar Cruz struck out to lead off the fourth, left­field­er Ra­mon Ros­ar­io singled. Catch­er Eduardo Sanc­hez ripped a ground­er that was snagged by Drum­mond, but his throw to second was low and both run­ners were safe. Car­los Ramirez reached on a bunt single to load the bases, bring­ing the league’s most-feared hit­ter, seni­or center­field­er Au­gusto Or­tega, to the plate.

The Di­vi­sion A Most Valu­able Play­er and North­east Times Pub­lic League Base­ball Play­er of the Year didn’t dis­ap­point, lin­ing a bases-clear­ing double to right-cen­ter to give the Pi­on­eers a com­fort­able 6-2 lead they wouldn’t come close to re­lin­quish­ing.

“Coach told me to be the man and do my job,” Or­tega said. “When I came back to the dugout after that hit, I knew that put us on an­oth­er level and we could breathe a little bit after that.”

From there, Cruz shut the door on GAMP. After the Drum­mond homer, the seni­or right-hander re­tired 13 of the next 15 bat­ters he faced and es­caped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth by al­low­ing only one run. From then on it was just a mat­ter of time be­fore Frank­ford could cel­eb­rate, as team mem­bers mobbed each oth­er after pinch-hit­ter John Hak­un lined out to second to end the game. Cruz fanned sev­en, walked two and scattered four hits in a com­plete-game win.

“Omar’s a work­horse, and he’s un­flap­pable,” Namnun said. “There’s nobody I’d rather have on the mound after a home run be­cause he’s our go-to guy in big games. He’s the best pitch­er in the league, and a home run’s a home run — who hasn’t giv­en up a home run be­fore? It’s a long base­ball game, and he bounced back like it was noth­ing.”

For most of the Frank­ford seni­ors, the best part about win­ning an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship was that it keeps this close-knit group to­geth­er for at least a bit longer. By win­ning the Pub­lic League title, Frank­ford will meet the win­ner of La Salle/Neu­mann-Gor­etti in Thursday’s City Title game. From there, Frank­ford will likely move onto the state tour­na­ment, hope­fully en­sur­ing a few more weeks to­geth­er be­fore the scat­ter­ing seni­ors go their sep­ar­ate ways.

“I feel very happy for all of my seni­ors,” Cerda said. “We’ve been play­ing to­geth­er since we were little, and we play every one like it’s our last. This could have been our last time play­ing to­geth­er, and we took ad­vant­age of that. We just had to be­lieve in ourselves and play hard. If we did that, everything would work out, and it did.”

Ad­ded Or­tega: “I’m happy we got to ex­per­i­ence this to­geth­er as seni­ors, but I’m also happy to show the young guys on the team that this is how you win a cham­pi­on­ship. This is the hard work you have to put in to get there. If you take it step by step, you can ac­com­plish all of your goals, and we proved that.”

After the cel­eb­ra­tions had sub­sided on the field and play­ers began to share the vic­tory with their friends and fam­il­ies, Namnun leaned against a nearby fence and took it all in. His Frank­ford jer­sey re­moved and T-shirt still sat­ur­ated from his Gat­o­rade bath, the Pi­on­eers’ class act of a coach smiled when asked where this team ranks amongst the many tal­en­ted ones he has been in charge of over the years.

“It’s really hard to go back-to-back,” he said. “When you win a cham­pi­on­ship the pre­vi­ous year you have to raise the en­ergy to try to re­peat, and that’s nev­er easy when you have a tar­get on your back and every­one in the league is gun­ning for you. To have these seni­ors start something three or four years ago and work so hard to fin­ish it on this field today means the world to me and to us as a team. This one’s really spe­cial for me, for Frank­ford and for all of us that had a hand in this.”

Namnun flashed one more smile when he was asked about this par­tic­u­lar team el­ev­at­ing it­self from just an­oth­er good Frank­ford team to a great one that people won’t soon for­get.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the grit,” he said. “They were al­ways hungry and nev­er sat­is­fied. The fact that they nev­er once got com­pla­cent made it truly spe­cial. They wanted per­fec­tion, and in a tight game you saw the grit and ex­tra ef­fort come out. I’m proud of all of them.” ••


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