PHILADELPHIA – They say you should be careful what you wish for.
That’s the case with the Neshaminy baseball team. Having earned a berth in states 10 days earlier, the Skins were going to go to the PIAA Tournament as either the third- or the fourth-place team from District 1 after losing to Pennsbury in the D1 semis.
Trailing seventh-seeded Perkiomen Valley in the third-place D1 matchup, Neshaminy roared back with five seventh-inning runs to rally to a 6-2 victory over the Vikings.
The win meant a state tournament opener against District 12 champ Frankford instead of a battle against District 4 champion Williamsport.
The Skins may have gotten more than they bargained for in drawing the Philadelphia Public League’s Pioneers, who used a combination of solid pitching and defense along with some timely hitting to outpace Neshaminy 5-2 Monday, June 5 at George Washington High School.
Their Achilles Heel nearly all season long, the lack of clutch hitting on the part of the Skins reared its ugly head once again in states. Neshaminy stranded nine baserunners in the game and ran into two additional outs including a game-ending stolen base attempt by a pinch-runner who misread a wild pitch.
“We had opportunities to score,” admitted Neshaminy head coach Dan Toner. “We just didn’t get it done – pop-ups, strikeouts – (we) just didn’t come through.”
Additionally, the solid fielding displayed by the Skins all season long picked the wrong day to suddenly elude Neshaminy. Indeed, the Skins committed three errors in one inning in this game, practically gift-wrapping a run given to a Frankford team making its first appearance in states in nine years.
“These are the type of games, especially in the state playoffs, you can’t afford to make any mistakes,” added Toner. “A lot of our game today was very uncharacteristic of what we do defensively.”
Things looked good for Neshaminy in the top of the first inning when the Skins put runners at second and third base with just one out after a one-out double by second baseman Brian Nicolas (3-for-4).
Sophomore Luis Ramos, a lefthander for the Pioneers, bore down and fanned Eddy Parry and Cory Joyce around a walk to designated hitter Ben Raab to end the inning without a single run crossing the plate.
“Energy is a huge factor in this game,” said Raab, who slapped a pair of singles in this one. “When you have something like that, it deflates you a little bit. We tried really hard to pick that back up and we just weren’t able to.”
Frankford wasted no time making the Skins pay for the missed opportunity with catcher Josh Pagan scoring leadoff hitter Rico Lugo from third base on a tap back to the mound and Sam Jimenez crushing a two-run double down the left field line for an early 3-0 Pioneers lead.
Frankford padded its margin to 4-0 in the third inning with a two-out single by Pagan and an RBI double by Craig Lugo. Pagan, Jimenez and Craig Lugo have one thing in common – they’re all seniors.
“We have some senior guys, they don’t wilt under pressure,” said Pioneers head coach Juan Namnun. “They go in and they attack. We were very aggressive.
“Craig (Lugo) and Sam (Jimenez) are great guys who like to go after it.”
Defensively, Frankford committed just one error in the game, on Joyce’s grounder to second base to lead off the sixth inning. But by that time, the Pioneers were on top, 5-1.
“We’ve spent a ton of time on defense,” added Namnun. “At the end of the day, I’ve been here long enough to know, that’s how you’re going to win games.”
Meanwhile, Ramos settled down and retired Neshaminy in order over the next two frames but the Skins went back to work in the fourth with cleanup hitter Eddie Parry leading off with a double to right field, followed by singles from Raab and Joyce that loaded the sacks once again, this time with no outs.
Leftfielder Joe Kaleck drew a walk to push a run in but Ramos popped the next two batters up and got leadoff hitter Anthony Rapposelli to hit a fly ball to right field to end the inning with the Skins trailing 4-1.
Nothing seemed to go right for Neshaminy in this one. With runners at first and second and one out in the fifth inning, Raab lofted a fly ball to centerfield. Instead of it just being the second out, Frankford centerfielder Rico Lugo turned it into a double-play when he fired a strike to third base to keep Nicolas from advancing.
The home fifth is when things really got out of hand defensively for the Skins. Pioneers shortstop Dioanny Mejia struck out to start the inning but the ball got away from catcher Eric Gale, whose hurried throw sailed into left field.
Neshaminy senior starter Evan Matthews (Misericordia) induced a grounder to third by Herrara for the first out but infielder Jerry Scavone failed to glove the following ground ball to the hot corner. Mejia jumped over Scavone and was subsequently ruled safe at third after a long discussion between the four umpires.
With runners at the corners, Frankford scored its fifth run of the day on a double steal with Mejia going home on the throw to second base and Pagan going all the way to third when the ensuing toss to home plate sailed all the way to the backstop.
“I know a lot of these guys; I’ve played with them for a long time and we’ve been in big-game situations a lot,” said Raab. “Sometimes baseball just goes like that; you don’t get the hops that you are looking for.”
With Joyce (error) and third baseman Jerry Scavone (walk) on first and second in the sixth inning, Eric Gale ripped a liner with eyes toward left field. Instead, it was stopped on a dime by Pioneers third baseman Nick Herrara, who very nearly doubled up Joyce at second base.
Then Ramos got the last batter to end the inning with a harmless ground ball to third base.
“Louie is a very composed young man who is very good at his craft,” said Namnun. “Not to mention that our catcher (Pagan) is arguably one of the best in the area. He knows what he’s doing and those two work really well together.”
With the Skins down to their final at-bats in the seventh, Nicolas came through at the plate one last time this season, stroking his second double of the day to the gap in right-centerfield. He scored on a two-out single up the middle by Raab but pinch-runner Chris Cavallaro ended the game when he took off on a dirt ball that Pagan gloved and tossed to second base for the final out.
Still, Raab, along with senior starters Eddie Parry, Anthony Rapposelli, Jerry Scavone, Owen Foraker, Zach Tredway and Eric Gale, are proud of the team’s progress this season.
After going 1-1 in districts last year, the Skins registered three district playoff wins this season including an opening win over Souderton, a revenge victory over Council Rock South that guaranteed a berth in states and that triumph over Perk Valley.
“I think we took a huge step forward with the program this year,” said Raab. “Hopefully, we set things up for the guys next season.”
In addition to the aforementioned seniors, Neshaminy waves goodbye to Chandler McCormick, Jacob Jones and Zach Boop, who is headed to Lehigh.
TOP PHOTO: Frankford shortstop Dioanny Mejia slides in safely at home plate as the ball gets away from Neshaminy catcher Eric Gale in 5-2 loss to the Pioneers Monday, June 5 at George Washington High School in Philadelphia. (J.S. Garber – For 21st-Century Media)
PIAA Class 6A Tournament
Frankford 5, Neshaminy 2
(June 5 at George Washington)
Neshaminy 000 100 1 – 2 7 4
Frankford 301 010 X – 5 6 1
WP — Luis Ramos 6.1IP, 2R, 7H, 4BB, 2SO, 1HB; LP — Evan Matthews 6IP, 5R, 6H, 1BB, 3SO, 2HB.
DOUBLES: N — Brian Nicolas 2, Eddie Parry; F — Sam Jimenez, Craig Lugo, Walid Hamdou.
MULTIPLE HITS: N — Nicolas 3-for-4, Ben Raab 2-for-3; F — Craig Lugo 2-for-3.
RBI: N — Raab, Joe Kaleck; F — Josh Pagan, Craig Lugo, Sam Jimenez 2.
RUNS: N — Nicolas, Parry; F — Rico Lugo, Dioanny Mejia, Nick Herrara, Pagan, Craig Lugo.
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