One bad pitch, 10 stranded baserunners, and a controversial call at the plate spelled an end to a banner season for the Frankford baseball team.
Despite holding Hempfield scoreless through the first five innings, thanks to a stellar effort by ace Esteban "Shortie" Meletiche, the Pioneers were nipped, 3-2, yesterday in a PIAA Class AAAA state quarterfinal playoff game at Spring-Ford.
Frankford, which took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, fell behind in the sixth. The District 12 champions trimmed the deficit to 3-2 on Edwin "Tito" Rohena's RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, but left the bases loaded. A two-out pop-up to shortstop stopped the comeback bid.
The Pioneers came close to achieving what only one other Public League squad has accomplished in four years of PIAA competition: winning two state games. In 2006, Central advanced to the semifinals before losing to Delaware Valley.
"We showed we can compete at any level," Frankford shortstop Jon Bracero said. "We showed we could do it."
Said first-year coach Juan Namnun: "We showed everybody that we do belong in states and, yes, we can hang with the best teams out there."
In a semifinal on Monday, Hempfield will take on Spring-Ford. The state championship is set for next Friday in Altoona.
Frankford (20-3) went ahead, 1-0, in the bottom of the fifth. After reaching base on an error, Meletiche stole home on a 2-0 pitch to cleanup man Jose Burgos.
That inning ended in controversy. With one out and Rohena at third base and Burgos at second, a dropped third-strike pitch forced a throw from catcher Nate Beck to first base. On the successful throw, Rohena bolted for the plate. He was called out at home, even though it looked as if he had clearly slid under Beck's high tag.
"I personally believe he was safe," Namnun said.
In the sixth, the Black Knights (22-5) finally touched Meletiche. After a one-out single, John Moser slammed a 2-2 change-up over the fence in right-center. The ball traveled approximately 390 feet.
"I tried to throw it outside," Meletiche said, "but it broke back toward the middle."
Hempfield, located near Lancaster and from District 3, added a run in the seventh on a passed ball. Meletiche, a righthander, yielded six hits and struck out seven.
The Pioneers made it 3-2 in the seventh, but reliever Mike Schusko escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam by getting Robinson Rodriguez to ground into a fielder's choice (third base to home) and retiring Frank Donato on an infield pop-up.
"We left too many guys on base," Bracero said. "At this level, in states, you have to do better than that."
Hempfield 000 002 1 - 3 6 4
Frankford 000 010 1 - 2 5 1
WP: Brandon Hinkle. LP: Esteban Meletiche. 2B: H-Derek Dornes 2. HR: H-John Moser.