Northeast Times

Washington upends Towne for first baseball title since ‘95

  • Washington head baseball coach Ken Geiser poses with the Public League championship trophy on Wednesday while fulfilling a bet he made with his players back in November. If the Eagles won the championship, Geiser had to have his head shaved into a Mohawk. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN CREIGHTON

  • It was all smiles for John Santos (right) and company, as George Washington finished its championship baseball season by capturing a 3-2 win over Franklin Towne Charter in the Public League title game.

  • First baseman Ishmael Bracy knocked in two runs in the title game.

  • Sophomore Eddie Tingle gutted his way through a 9-8 win over Central in the Class AAAA title game.

  • Steve Callahan is greeted by teammate Fred Courduff in Towne’s semifinal victory over Philadelphia Academy Charter. Callahan pitched a complete game and knocked in a run in the championship, but Towne still fell 3-2.

  • Towne will be tasked with replacing dynamic leadoff hitter Brian Bradley.

If you happened to walk by Ken Geiser these days, he wouldn’t fault you for not re­cog­niz­ing him.

After all, the George Wash­ing­ton base­ball coach and ath­let­ic dir­ect­or looks a little bit dif­fer­ent than he nor­mally does. Now, he has the look of a cham­pi­on.

Let Geiser ex­plain.

“Back on Novem­ber 5, we were hit­ting in the cages, and (seni­or third base­man) Scott Si­ley tells me that if we win the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship, I had to shave my head in­to a Mo­hawk,” Geiser said by phone on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “I agreed.”

Wed­nes­day was the day after Geiser, Si­ley and com­pany had com­pleted their cham­pi­on­ship run on the dia­mond, win­ning Tues­day’s Pub­lic League title in a 3-2 nail-biter over di­vi­sion rival Frank­lin Towne Charter. While it was Towne’s second con­sec­ut­ive ap­pear­ance in the cham­pi­on­ship con­test, it was Wash­ing­ton’s first time back there since 1999, and the Eagles’ first title since 1995.

Geiser, who was part of Wash­ing­ton’s first league cham­pi­on­ship team as a play­er back in 1978, was still soak­ing it in — as well as get­ting used to his new hair­style — a day after it was of­fi­cial.

How does he look, a re­port­er asked him?

“I look like an old man with a Mo­hawk,” he dead­panned.

While his head may look tem­por­ar­ily ab­surd, it’s all been worth it for a tal­en­ted group of base­ball play­ers, many of whom thought they had what it took to be on this stage in 2013, be­fore Frank­ford sur­prised Wash­ing­ton in the Class AAAA title game en route to the Pi­on­eers’ third straight title.

Now, there’s a new kid on the block; or, bet­ter yet, an old, fa­mil­i­ar face that has re­claimed its seat atop the base­ball throne.

Like any cham­pi­on­ship team, there were tons of con­trib­ut­ors and her­oes: seni­or ace pitch­er Ro­ger Han­son, Di­vi­sion A’s MVP, who grit­ted his way through the title game des­pite un­char­ac­ter­ist­ic con­trol prob­lems (Han­son walked six, stacked against nine strikeouts); there was the con­stant timely hit­ting of Si­ley, who knocked in the de­cid­ing run on a triple in the top of the third, as well as ju­ni­or first base­man Ish­mael Bracy, who knocked in the oth­er two in a sea­son full of clutch hits in his first sea­son after trans­fer­ring from South­ern; center­field­er and four-year play­er John San­tos, whom Geiser re­lied heav­ily on atop his po­tent lineup; out­field­er Pat Far­rell, who bat­ted over .500 out of the nine-hole; re­serve Melvin Var­gas, who came up huge in the bat­ter’s box and in right field in Wash­ing­ton’s 9-8 Class AAAA win over Cent­ral, filling in for a sus­pen­ded Far­rell; and Ed­die Tingle, the only sopho­more on the roster who provided sol­id pro­tec­tion for Si­ley and Bracy in the or­der and used ad­ren­aline and guts on the mound to out­last the Lan­cers in that game. Catch­er Chase Al­ex­an­der and second base­man Joel Gold­berg were re­li­able both of­fens­ively and de­fens­ively. Vo­lun­teer as­sist­ants Craig Sharp and Jim O’Hara rarely missed a day.

“When you’re a kid, you’re ex­cited to be a part of a cham­pi­on­ship team,” Geiser said, re­call­ing his days as a play­er dec­ades ago. “Now, I can see them en­joy it, which is what it’s all about. I won it many years ago, and it’s still a fra­tern­ity, still a fam­ily. It’s a great feel­ing, and I told them a few weeks ago that if you win a Pub­lic League title, no one can ever take that away from you.”

Geiser had to sweat through this one, and, as he said later, “Noth­ing with us is ever easy.” Wash­ing­ton struck in their first at-bat, with San­tos doub­ling to lead off the game and even­tu­ally scor­ing on a sac­ri­fice fly by Bracy. Towne used a one-out triple by shortstop Rob Henry and sac fly by pitch­er Steve Cal­la­han to tie the score the next half-in­ning.

The game re­mained 1-1 un­til Far­rell doubled to lead off the third. He came around to score on a single by Bracy, who in turn scored on Si­ley’s deep op­pos­ite-field triple to right. Towne got one back when Han­son walked four of the first five bat­ters he faced in the bot­tom of the third, with sopho­more first base­man Za­ck Beltran draw­ing an RBI free pass. But just when it seemed like Han­son was los­ing con­trol, a mound vis­it from Geiser settled him down, and he in­duced an in­ning-end­ing 6-4-3 double play off the bat of catch­er Chris Ham­mer­stein.

After he struck Beltran and Ham­mer­stein out to lead off the sixth, Han­son was greeted by three straight singles from Towne’s 6-7-8 hit­ters, Fred Courduff, Phil Gil­christ and Matt Schlern­itza­uer, to load the bases. Again in trouble, Han­son again danced his way out of it, strik­ing out Ray Lopez to end the threat. He re­tired the fi­nal three outs in or­der to fin­ish the game.

“When I went out there to talk to Ro­ger in the third, I didn’t know what to ex­pect, be­cause nor­mally he doesn’t walk guys,” Geiser re­coun­ted. “We wer­en’t sure if he was there men­tally, or if we were go­ing to have to take him out. I told him if he wanted to stay in, he had to pitch, and he did. He got us through the game.”

Han­son went the dis­tance, scat­ter­ing six hits and two runs to go along with the six walks and nine K’s; his coun­ter­part, Cal­la­han, was nearly as good, go­ing sev­en in­nings while sur­ren­der­ing six hits and three runs. Towne’s ju­ni­or ace pitch­er and best play­er struck out four and walked three. Han­son got Cal­la­han to ground out to short to end the game.

“That was a phe­nom­en­al game, and both pitch­ers threw phe­nom­en­ally,” Towne head coach Chris Lauber said. “It was an ex­cel­lent game, and we just came up one run short. I think 100 per­cent that Ro­ger and Steve are the hearts and souls of their teams, and I don’t think any­one would deny that. They both put their teams in a per­fect po­s­i­tion to win. When Ro­ger needed to, he rose to the oc­ca­sion. Steve did the ex­act same thing. Luck­ily, Steve is a ju­ni­or, so he’s got an­oth­er year to grow with me; Ro­ger is mov­ing on, but for a young man to do what he did, he’s just in­cred­ible.”

It was the ul­ti­mate sign of re­spect from Lauber, whose team’s only two league losses this sea­son were to Wash­ing­ton (Han­son also blanked them in a 3-0, one-hit shutout in the reg­u­lar sea­son where he struck out 12). Towne still won the di­vi­sion, but it was the Eagles that claimed the ul­ti­mate prize.

Lauber and his team were dis­ap­poin­ted, sure, es­pe­cially after de­part­ing this game as the los­ing team for the second con­sec­ut­ive year. But they were much bet­ter from top to bot­tom in 2014 than they were the year be­fore, when they star­ted 1-6 and ar­rived in the title game on the heels of an 11-game win streak. Towne and Wash­ing­ton were the league’s top teams from the jump, and it stayed that way throughout.

“It’s hard to lose it hav­ing been there twice,” said Lauber, who was an as­sist­ant on last year’s team and took over as head coach on March 27 when long­time head coach Kyle Ri­ley stepped down due to per­son­al reas­ons. “But I think these guys real­ize the fu­ture we have, and it’s bright. They’re def­in­itely con­fid­ent. There’s a sense of sad­ness and dis­ap­point­ment, sure, but they’re already ex­cited. They’ve been tex­ting me pic­tures of them from the weight room say­ing that the road back starts now.”

Lauber will lose Ham­mer­stein be­hind the plate, leadoff hit­ter/third base­man Bri­an Brad­ley, second base­man Lopez and valu­able pinch-run­ner/util­ity­man Ry­an Boyd to gradu­ation, but be­sides that, nearly every­one is back.

Cal­la­han, a born lead­er, tops that list, and it’s safe to say nobody will be more de­term­ined to make sure the third time’s a charm in 2015 than him. Beltran has been the team’s cleanup hit­ter and first base­man since he was a fresh­man, and out­field­ers Gil­christ, Courduff and Schlern­itza­uer all came in­to their own. Henry is already a dy­nam­ic tal­ent as a fresh­man, while sopho­more Chris­ti­an Diaz and fresh­man Eric Sanc­hez made sol­id con­tri­bu­tions on the mound. Fresh­man Jason San­ti­ago is ex­pec­ted to take over for Ham­mer­stein be­hind the plate.

“I told them to re­mem­ber it, nev­er for­get it,” Lauber said. “That par­tic­u­lar feel­ing of los­ing, nev­er let it get away, be­cause it will be their main driv­ing force. It’s a ter­rible feel­ing and it hurts; they might not learn from it today or to­mor­row, but they will find the pos­it­ive les­sons and mo­tiv­a­tions to move on.

“I couldn’t be more ex­cited to have a full off­season to pre­pare my­self as the head coach, as well as a full off­season to prep them as cham­pi­ons. They’re ex­cited. I’m ex­cited. I couldn’t ask to be in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion go­ing in­to my second year. We have two or three gaps to fill, but if we aren’t a top con­tender next year, then something went drastic­ally wrong.”

For now, it was Wash­ing­ton’s time, and Geiser is lov­ing every second of it, bad hair­cut and all.

“There’s some real tal­ent in the Pub­lic League, and I hope people see that,” he said. “Base­ball is fun. It’s a great sport. You prac­tice in­doors in the cold and rain and I tell the kids it will pay off some­time for you, and now they see that it did. It’s a mat­ter of put­ting in the time to where you see the res­ults. Here’s what hap­pens when you work hard: you suc­ceed. It’s a life les­son. They worked hard, and they found their suc­cess. Who knows about what will hap­pen to­mor­row or Monday … we’ll worry about that when it comes. For now, we’re just en­joy­ing this.”

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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