THE CHAMPIONSHIP trophy again belonged to Frankford High and the yelling and jumping around in the home-plate area had begun to subside.
A victory lap around Campbell's Field, in Camden, would be next and . . .
"I'll start it off, baby!'' Jon Bracero hollered, grabbing the hardware and starting a trot down the third-base line.
Juan Namnun could have predicted as much.
"Jon's our leader, any way you slice it,'' said Namnun, the Pioneers' first-year coach. "He's our energy, our soul, our spirit. Anything we get going, he's the one who does it.''
Thanks to a 15-5, six-inning win last night over Central, Frankford rules the Pub for the fifth time in six seasons (Central won in 2006) and now boasts an astonishing 7-year league record of 117-8, counting regular-season games and playoffs.
Was the latest triumph easy? Eventually, yes.
But there was assuredly some early consternation, considering that Central owned a 5-1 lead after 2 1/2 innings.
Then it happened. The Pioneers plated nine runs in the bottom half of the frame.
Honestly, much of the uprising featured butt-ugly baseball. None of the first 10 (of 13) batters posted a hit and Frankford was still able to score five times. There was a plunking, two walks, Jose Burgos' sacrifice fly, two more walks, an RBI groundout by Dave Doggett that was misplayed, a bases-loaded walk to Jose Gueits, the No. 9 hitter, and a wild pitch to plate run No. 5.
Throughout that sequence, Bracero walked up and down the third-base dugout, encouraging his teammates and reminding them that the Pioneers were going to find a way to win.
With Gueits at-bat, Bracero alternately kept saying to anyone within earshot, "He's going to get a hit . . . He's going to get on base.''
"I just had the feeling,'' Bracero, a senior shortstop, said much later. "Really, I had that feeling the whole inning. I just knew we were going to get it done. Hey, the first part of being able to do the job is having the confidence that you will.
"Everybody in our lineup can hit. One through nine. Hands down. We have our ups and downs, but when it comes to clutch time, we come through.''
Delivering the wild pitch was just-summoned reliever Micah Winterstein, who under normal circumstances would have been Central's starter.
He is battling a tender right elbow, however, and coach Bob Barthelmeh said Tommy John surgery could soon be necessary. Barthelmeh added he needed to receive written permission from Winterstein's parents, and a physician, to even use him at all last night (he began the game at first base).
Right after the WP, leadoff man Esteban "Shortie'' Meletiche was issued a free pass to load the bases. Bracero strolled to the plate.
Did he have confidence in himself?
"Always,'' he said, laughing. "Even if things don't turn out my way, you know I'm gonna get my hacks.''
Bracero hammered a sinking liner to center. Ian Lewis attempted a diving, all-or-nothing catch, but couldn't quite get there and the hit went for a three-run double. Edwin "Tito'' Rohena followed with a ringing triple to a point near the 405-foot sign.
"My hit gave me a great feeling,'' Bracero said. "There's nothing like coming through for your team.''
The outburst made it 10-5. Frankford sandwiched two-spots in the fourth and sixth (both on doubles by Meletiche) around a singleton in the fifth (on Robinson Rodriguez' sac fly).
Meletiche had quite the interesting night. The senior righthander, encouraged nonstop by Frankford fans with chants of "MVP! MVP,'' went the distance. Only a two-out walk in the sixth prevented him from retiring the last 12 batters in order.
Overall, he allowed six hits and two walks while striking out six.
First inning? Did you have to ask? With help from a key error and passed balls, Central scored three runs. Aaron Esbenson (infield chopper for a single) and Tom Capewell (looping double down the leftfield line) did post hits for RBI.
The early jolt notwithstanding, Meletiche wasn't going to alter his approach. Leading off the bottom half, he swung at the first pitch and crushed a liner to Lewis. Total, he went 2-for-3 with a plunking, the intentional walk, four RBI and a decent level of pain.
Before his fourth-inning double, Meletiche loaded up big-time and fouled the ball straight back. He went down in a heap and Rohena immediately trotted out to the bullpen, thinking he'd be forced to pitch. Meletiche sprinted up and down the first-base line, persuaded Namnun to leave him in, despite the tweaked groin, and then powered his double to left-center.
Meletiche fanned Shane Meyer to start the fifth, but was giving off an I'm-doing-this-gingerly aura. Namnun visited the mound.
" 'Coach, it's my game,' '' Namnun said Meletiche told him, forcefully.
"I told him I'm not coming out, no matter what,'' Meletiche said, smiling. "I could have pulled it and I wasn't coming out. He kept saying, 'Be honest . . . Be honest.' I told him, 'I'm good. I wanna play.'
"It did hurt. I just kept going.''
Meletiche said his thoughts after the early setback was, "Only the first inning. Lots of time to come back. My teammates are going to help me.''
Right he was. And he was going to help himself.
"This is huge,'' said Namnun, whose team will host a PIAA Class AAAA first-round playoff Monday, 3 o'clock, at La Salle University. "We had good returnees, so I liked our chances to win again coming into the season. But when it happens, it's like it's surreal.'' *