Play ball

Fath­er Judge, Arch­bish­op Ry­an, Lin­coln, Wash­ing­ton, Frank­ford, Fels, North­east and Frank­lin Towne are ready for some base­ball. PHO­TOS BY MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA & TIMES FILE ART

— High school base­ball play­ers and coaches in the North­east are ready for the 2013 sea­son. Are you?

Dur­ing a re­cent vis­it to George Wash­ing­ton High School, a chance run-in with Ken Geiser didn’t yield a lot of time for con­ver­sa­tion. Wash­ing­ton’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or and head base­ball coach had a mil­lion things to do, from hanging the net­ting for the bat­ting cages, to hanging a new base­ball score­board, to pre­par­ing the field for game play.

Most area high school base­ball coaches share Geiser’s plight this time of year: too much to do, and not enough time to do it. The sea­son ar­rives so sud­denly, and when the weath­er has been as un­co­oper­at­ive as it has been so far in terms of al­low­ing teams to prac­tice out­side, it can be a chaot­ic, haphaz­ard time.

But it’s also one of the most thrill­ing times of the ath­let­ic year. When Geiser fi­nally found a few minutes to talk a few days later, he had trouble stop­ping. 

“I’ll talk base­ball with you all day, I’m so ex­cited,” he gushed.

He’s not alone. Here’s a closer look at the eight loc­al high school teams who can’t wait to get star­ted:



Last sea­son: 13-1, won PL cham­pi­on­ship

Around the fifth in­ning of last year’s Pub­lic League title game, something sober­ing dawned on Frank­ford head coach Juan Namnun.

“I knew we were go­ing to win the game, and then we’d have our work cut out for us in re­build­ing this thing,” Namnun said. 

Gone are sev­er­al key play­ers from a core group that won two straight titles, and re­pla­cing them may be Namnun’s toughest chal­lenge yet. The man who has won three league titles in five years hasn’t been the un­der­dog of­ten, but that’s what the Pi­on­eers are fa­cing as they head in­to 2013.

The biggest loss will be CF Au­gusto Or­tega, last year’s league MVP who bat­ted over .600 from the leadoff spot. Also gone are key con­trib­ut­ors in P Omar Cruz, P/RF Hec­tor Cerda, P/3B Brandon Gonza­lez, SS Ricky Al­varez and LF Ra­mon Ros­ar­io. 

“Last year, I man­aged tal­ent; this year, I’m go­ing to have to coach quite a bit more,” Namnun said.

Luck­ily, he’ll re­turn hulk­ing 6-foot-5 1B Kev­in Montero, who could be draf­ted by a Ma­jor League club in June. Oth­er re­turn­ers in­clude Car­los Ramirez, who will take over in CF; Eduardo Sanc­hez, the team’s catch­er; and Kidanny Cumba, a middle in­field­er who got some ex­per­i­ence last year. A sur­prise name in the fold is Frank­ford’s re­cord-set­ting quar­ter­back Tim Di­Gior­gio, who is giv­ing varsity base­ball a try as a P/OF. 

“This year could be sur­pris­ing,” said Namnun, re­peat­ing a word that sums up Frank­ford’s un­cer­tain stand­ing head­ing in­to the sea­son. “I have a huge puzzle on my desk, I just have to make the pieces fit.”

George Wash­ing­ton

Last sea­son: 5-8, PL semi­finals

When Ken Geiser takes a look around the field and sur­veys his per­son­nel, he talks hur­riedly and ex­citedly.

Geiser brings al­most every­body back in 2013, most prom­in­ently seni­or P/OF Jake Wright, known for his loud, fear­some bat that has turned him in­to one of the league’s most deadly hit­ters.

“The ball just sounds dif­fer­ent com­ing off his bat,” Geiser said.

Geiser will also look to seni­or Corey Sharp (LF) and ju­ni­or leadoff man/CF John San­tos for both pro­duc­tion and lead­er­ship. In ad­di­tion to Wright, ju­ni­or Ro­ger Han­son and seni­or Aaron Keen will be coun­ted on to lead the pitch­ing staff, which Geiser said would make or break G.W. Oth­er re­turn­ers in­clude Scott Si­ley (1B), Aaron Gold­berg (3B) and Mi­chael Honick (2B). 

Geiser is well pre­pared for his second sea­son as base­ball coach. Last year, he stepped in at the last minute to re­place long­time coach Calv­in Jones, who had been dia­gnosed with pro­state can­cer. Now, with a full off­season un­der his belt, Geiser is ready and rar­ing to go. 

“Every­body’s think­ing that this may be our year, but it’s up to us to prove that,” he said. 

Frank­lin Towne Charter

Last sea­son: 3-10

Hav­ing been Frank­lin Towne’s base­ball coach since the school’s in­cep­tion in 2000-01, Kyle Ri­ley has brought the pro­gram from Pub­lic League in­fancy to its top di­vi­sion. Now, he’s hop­ing for more.

“We moved up to Di­vi­sion A after the 2008 sea­son, and while we’ve done enough to hold on and stay in this di­vi­sion, I want us to break through and be a sol­id Di­vi­sion A team this sea­son,” said Ri­ley, in his 13th sea­son as head coach. “Who knows what we can ac­com­plish from there?”

Towne went just 3-10 in Di­vi­sion A play a sea­son ago, but Ri­ley thinks his team played bet­ter than its re­cord shows, at times com­ing close to beat­ing GAMP and Frank­ford. It helps that Ri­ley brings back a good amount of tal­ent, namely seni­or right-handed pitch­ers Dami­an Pa­dilla and Tim Hart, as well as seni­or 1B Chris Hart­man. The Coyotes gradu­ated only two seni­ors, so Ri­ley is hop­ing for a climb in the stand­ings.

“I think all three of those guys can be All-Pub­lic,” he said. “We have a lot of play­ers back who have gained valu­able ex­per­i­ence, so it’s ob­vi­ous the po­ten­tial for our team to be suc­cess­ful is there.”



Last sea­son: 8-2

Head coach Sam Feld­man won a Pub­lic League soc­cer cham­pi­on­ship last fall in his fi­nal year be­fore re­tire­ment. Though he doesn’t ex­pect the same to come true for base­ball, he is look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge of find­ing pitch­ers on a roster with not many arms to go around.

“I’m hop­ing to ma­gic­ally put the pieces to­geth­er and hope for the best,” he said.

Seni­or three-sport star Daquan Bo­han­non will give it a go on the mound when not play­ing short if a both­er­some shoulder al­lows, as will fel­low seni­or cap­tain/3B Shahir Gates. C/1B Manny Dur­an and C Ra­mon Class are likely to get shots at pitch­ing, too.  

Feld­man said one of his ma­jor goals for his fi­nal sea­son is to play North­east back in­to  Di­vi­sion A. Hav­ing des­cen­ded down to B after 2011, North­east’s 8-2 mark last year gives Feld­man some room to hope.

“I don’t want to go out as the guy who brought North­east down to B … that’s not who I am. I want to leave the pro­gram in good stand­ing.”


Last sea­son: 6-3-1, PL quarterfi­nals

Lin­coln head coach John Larsen is in the en­vi­able po­s­i­tion of bring­ing back a con­tinu­ously im­prov­ing core group of guys that have been to­geth­er since fresh­man year. 

The Railsplit­ters got a large mon­key off their backs last year in knock­ing off pre­vi­ous tor­menter North­east to ad­vance to the play­offs. They ul­ti­mately lost to GAMP, but it was a valu­able learn­ing ex­per­i­ence.

“We’re very seni­or heavy, with seni­ors who have ex­per­i­enced so much to­geth­er,” Larsen said.

The main mem­bers of this cast in­clude pitch­er Dylan Burke, 2B/SS Kev­in John­son and OF/IF/C Chris­ti­an McGov­ern, all sol­id play­ers in the league. Three-year starter Matt Dugan re­turns at 1B, while Larsen hopes seni­or Donta Neg­ron can fill a void in CF, while raw, fresh­man catch­er Nick Houser can de­vel­op be­hind the plate if McGov­ern doesn’t take to the po­s­i­tion. 

“Our lead­ers know what’s ex­pec­ted of them now,” Larsen said. “They know that if they play well, then the wins and losses will sort them­selves out.”

Samuel Fels

Last sea­son: 5-6, PL quarterfi­nals

A sea­son after a 5-6 show­ing in Di­vi­sion B got Fels to the quarterfi­nals, they’ll have to try to get back to the post­season without the help of sev­en gradu­ated starters.

Back are ju­ni­ors Lu­is Rodrig­uez (C/P) and Diem­mer Melen­dez (1B/3B/P). Gone is mostly every­one else from head coach George Dufn­er’s 2012 team. 

“We have so many new guys and ninth graders that it will be a lot of Base­ball 101 … teach­ing them the simple things,” Dufn­er said.

He’ll miss the group that got him to the play­offs last year, but start­ing anew is not something Dufn­er is averse to.

“It’s good and bad,” he said. “We lost a lot of kids, but I like that chal­lenge of get­ting the young kids to learn and play the game prop­erly.”


Fath­er Judge

Last sea­son: 4-8

Tim Ginter, a former Cru­sader base­ball play­er, summed up the end of Judge’s 2012 sea­son pretty mat­ter-of-factly. 

“It’s al­ways tough when your sea­son ends,” he said. “It’s even tough­er when it ends to Ry­an.”

Both area Cath­ol­ic League teams fin­ished 4-8 in di­vi­sion play a sea­son ago, with Ry­an host­ing — and win­ning — a first-round play­off game. Ginter be­lieves the re­turn of seni­or trio Mike O’Han­lon (LF), Chris Thompson (P) and Josh Teson (P) will equate to more Cru­sader vic­tor­ies. Thompson and Teson emerged as Judge’s top two pitch­ers a year ago, while O’Han­lon is back to 100 per­cent after he rushed back his ju­ni­or sea­son fol­low­ing an off­season knee in­jury.

Su­per-util­ity play­er An­drew Maen­ner can play all over, and Ry­an Mack­iewicz — also the Cru­saders’ start­ing QB — is ex­pec­ted to handle Judge’s catch­ing du­ties. Ginter knows the chal­lenge ahead in the league, and hopes his team can climb the stand­ings in 2013.

“We don’t beat dead horses,” Ginter said. “We struggled to hit, pitch and catch at times last year, and that spells 4-8. Now that we’ve been through it, I ex­pect us to be much bet­ter.”

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 4-8

While Ry­an came out on top of its play­off match-up with ar­chrival Fath­er Judge, last sea­son was one of trans­ition for the Raid­ers. 

The team was young after gradu­at­ing sev­er­al ac­com­plished lead­ers over the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons. Now, the pro­gram’s vet­er­an coach be­lieves his in­ex­per­i­enced team from a year ago is ready to make the leap back to­ward the top of the stand­ings.

“The ex­per­i­ence those guys got last year, you can’t beat it,” said Ron Ger­hart. “We’re a year older and a little stronger.”

Among the pleth­ora of tal­ent Ry­an brings back, seni­ors Gage Ga­le­one (LF) and Con­nor Golden (des­ig­nated hit­ter), and ju­ni­or 2B Bobby Ro­mano are the best of the lot. Ro­mano emerged as a ma­jor im­pact play­er as a sopho­more, while Ger­hart hopes seni­or Chris Elmes an­chors an un­cer­tain pitch­ing ro­ta­tion.

“Pitch­ing is our biggest ques­tion mark,” Ger­hart said. “We don’t have a dom­in­ant guy, so how they re­act in these tough league games will be a huge key.”

A “down year” fol­low­ing a string of sev­er­al strong ones only leaves Ger­hart and the Raid­ers sal­iv­at­ing to get back to com­pet­ing for a league title.

“Be­ing one of the top seeds in the play­offs is a goal of ours. We talk about want­ing to be the best in the league, and it takes a year for the young guys to real­ize what that takes. Now, I don’t have to preach it to them. Now, they know they’re in for the fight of their lives whenev­er they take the field.” ••

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