Towne itching for 2014 after breakthrough baseball year

Sopho­more shortstop Steph­en Cal­la­han, who also spends time on the mound, will be coun­ted on to keep the school’s base­ball pro­gram head­ing in the right dir­ec­tion. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

To un­der­stand the strides Frank­lin Towne Charter’s base­ball pro­gram has made this sea­son, one need look no fur­ther than Steph­en Cal­la­han’s broken nose.

After be­ing the first charter school to ad­vance all the way to the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game, the Coyotes’ sopho­more shortstop took a scream­ing liner dir­ectly off his face from the leadoff bat­ter in last week’s title con­test.

There was a short delay, as well as some blood. But Cal­la­han barely flinched, shak­ing off the bus­ted nose to stay in the game. The play was scored as an er­ror on Cal­la­han, the first of sev­en, most of them by the in­field.

The mis­cues res­ul­ted in a fairly one-sided 9-2 Frank­ford win, the Pi­on­eers’ third con­sec­ut­ive Pub­lic League crown.

But it would take much more than a base­ball off the grill to rip Cal­la­han away from the team­mates he had grown to love so much. After a 1-6 start in league play was fol­lowed by an 11-game win streak, any­thing seemed pos­sible for Towne.

“You can’t put the loss on any one guy,” Cal­la­han said later. “A lot of things just didn’t go our way. I didn’t have an er­ror all sea­son, then I had a few. It wasn’t our day, or my day. I wish I could re-do it, but that’s life. I think above all, we proved that we be­longed.”

In a truly zany sea­son in the Pub­lic League, Towne picked a per­fectly op­por­tune time to bust out. In a year where a team that star­ted 1-6 fell to a team that fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son 0-6 in the title game, it would al­most have been fit­ting for the little charter school to shock the world.

It wasn’t meant to be, but that didn’t di­min­ish the pride Towne play­ers felt for them­selves and for their school in reach­ing the cham­pi­on­ship game.

“After the game, I prom­ised the seni­ors that in my next two years there was no doubt I’d bring one (a cham­pi­on­ship) back for them,” Cal­la­han said. “I owe them one. Those guys, they went out of their way to be­lieve in me and boost my con­fid­ence. I love those guys for be­liev­ing in me.”

The guys Cal­la­han was re­fer­ring to are pitch­er Tim Hart, first base­man Chris Hart­man, out­field­ers Tyler Keller and Dami­an Pa­dilla and in­field­er Eli­as Rosa. Towne’s five seni­ors laid the found­a­tion for the pro­gram to find suc­cess, en­dur­ing suc­cess­ive 5-11, 2-12 and 3-10 sea­sons be­fore the 2013 group broke out at 8-6.

Their hard work and ded­ic­a­tion to the pro­gram opened the door for guys like Cal­la­han, a sopho­more, and hulk­ing fresh­man des­ig­nated hit­ter Za­ck­ery Beltran to play cru­cial roles on a team that found it­self vy­ing for a league title.

“The seni­ors, they nev­er got down or poin­ted fin­gers when we were 1-6,” said Kyle Ri­ley, the only head base­ball coach Towne has ever had. “Sure, guys like Tim and Chris made great stat­ist­ic­al con­tri­bu­tions, but that kind of at­ti­tude they dis­played when things were really rough … you can’t put a value on that.”

The seni­ors went a long way to en­sure that the un­der­class­men felt wel­come and just as much a part of the team as the five of them. Cal­la­han re­called a story when the team was 1-5 with a game against first-place Wash­ing­ton loom­ing. Know­ing Cal­la­han would be on the mound, Pa­dilla called up the sopho­more on the tele­phone and made him a part of hyp­ing up the rest of the team. Though Cal­la­han and Towne ended up los­ing that game, 2-1, it was also the cata­lyst that turned their sea­son around.

“After that game was when we kind of real­ized this could end up be­ing our year,” Cal­la­han said.

Towne split two games with Frank­ford in the reg­u­lar sea­son, in­clud­ing a 15-1 blo­wout win at home, which gave the Coyotes con­fid­ence go­ing in­to the cham­pi­on­ship. Un­for­tu­nately, they picked a bad time and an even worse group to give ex­tra outs to, but the ex­per­i­ence was eye open­ing for every­one in­volved.

“At first, I couldn’t have been more scared,” said Beltran, who is ex­pec­ted to take over at first base for Hart­man in 2014. “But these guys, they make you feel like you be­long and they show you what to do. We turned it around, and we just clicked.”

Ad­ded Hart, who was 9-0 on the sea­son be­fore his hard-luck loss to Frank­ford: “I re­gret noth­ing. We didn’t come pre­pared for the cham­pi­on­ship game, but it was amaz­ing how we got there. We be­came in­sep­ar­able. When I was a fresh­man, I didn’t say a word to most of the ju­ni­ors and seni­ors. We wanted to change things and set the stand­ard for the young guys, to talk to them and show them that Frank­lin Towne can play great base­ball at a con­sist­ent level.”

In a school year that saw Towne’s girls soc­cer and soft­ball pro­grams win titles, as well as base­ball and boys soc­cer ad­van­cing to league cham­pi­on­ship games, the base­ball hol­d­overs can’t wait to get go­ing again. The start of the 2014 sea­son is more than nine months away, but the off­season train­ing will be­gin im­me­di­ately.

Cal­la­han, who Ri­ley called “a born lead­er, the heart and soul of our team” as a sopho­more, will lead the charge next year. He’s likely to step in for Hart as the team’s top pitch­er; des­pite the broken nose, he still pitched in re­lief work after the Pi­on­eers chased Hart out of the game.

“March can’t come soon enough for us,” Ri­ley said. “It really can’t.”

Above all, the cham­pi­on­ship loss was a valu­able learn­ing ex­per­i­ence as the pro­gram moves for­ward. Frank­ford has had a clamp on the Pub­lic League crown since 2011, and most of the last two dec­ades, for that mat­ter, but Towne went a long way in es­tab­lish­ing it­self as more than just an­oth­er game on the sched­ule for the likes of league stal­warts Frank­ford, Wash­ing­ton and Cent­ral.

“Guys stepped up and proved we be­long,” Hart said. “It’s a team that will win titles in the fu­ture, I guar­an­tee you that.”

“Be­lieve, be­lieve, be­lieve,” Cal­la­han ad­ded. “I’m ready for next year, and I be­lieve we can get back here. I’m proud to be a Coyote. I’m glad to be do­ing what I am right now, and I’m so ex­cited to come back.” ••

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