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Frankford blanks Washington to reach Public League title game

They say you never forget your first.

They say you never forget your first.

Pitching win, that is.

We take you way, way back to, well, only 9 years ago, when Omar Cruz was a fresh-faced 7-year-old. He was already past T-ball, playing regular baseball, when his coach decided to put him on the mound.

"All the other pitchers were wasted," he said.

Wow! How'd we miss that story? Wasted 7-year-olds?

"No, no. I mean their arms were hurting," he said, laughing.

Anyway . . .

"I was so nervous out there," he said. "When you're the pitcher, there's a lot on you. Emotions. Pressure. A lot of stuff was going through my mind. But we won, 6-5."

Fast-forward to yesterday. Cruz, a 5-8, 140-pound sophomore righthander, pitched effectively throughout as Frankford High muffled George Washington, 7-0, at La Salle University in the first game of a Public League semifinal doubleheader. Its opponent in Tuesday's championship game, also at La Salle (3:30 p.m.), will be Central, a 6-3 winner over Girard Academic Music Program.

Cruz surrendered four hits, walked three and struck out five while posting - hey, whatdaya know - his first varsity shutout.

"Yup, this is actually my first," he said. "I'm pretty surprised that I could do it [in a semifinal]. But I had a lot of help from my teammates [in the form of error-free defense]. That's how you win games.

"Every game I pitch, I keep my head up [with pride]. But I do have ups and downs. Today I just pulled off the shutout."

Frankford scored one in the first and six in the second, and cleanliness was not exactly rampant. Only one of the runs was earned as Washington committed four errors. There were two big hits in the second, however - Ricky Alvarez' two-run single and Brandon Gonzalez' two-run double.

"That big early lead helped me out a lot," Cruz said. "That was what I was wishing for when we first got here. I was telling the guys, 'I need you to get on base and score runs, and I'll do the rest.' "

When Cruz was asked at what juncture he made that statement, he smiled and said, "In the bus on the way here . . . In the dugout getting ready . . . On the field during warmups.

"They were with me. They knew they had to play defense right, too, and they even did that."

The best play was posted by sophomore shortstop Israel Diaz, who ranged deep into the hole, tumbled, regrouped and fired for an out at first. Somewhere, Jimmy Rollins applauded enthusiastically.

Centerfielder Augusto Ortega, yet another soph, went 3-for-4 with a walk, two steals and as many runs scored out of the leadoff slot. Gonzalez finished 3-for-4 with the double and two RBI while Gabe Cedeno added two hits.

Washington advanced just one guy as far as third base. Harrison Leal, normally the leadoff man, did not arrive until the third inning because he'd been attending a funeral. In the fifth, he popped a double down the rightfield line and then moved to third as Cruz took a hard shot off his left leg and retired Dan Meade at first. Shelby Marion followed with a liner to rightfielder Hector Serda (you know what grade he's in, right?) and Leal, momentarily confused, neglected to tag up. Losing pitcher Aaron Wilmer then looked at a third strike.

Cruz, who lives near Castor and Bristol, in Juniata, formerly dabbled in boxing.

"It helped me build muscle and strength," he said. "But now I'm all about baseball. I just try to do my job out there. Coach [Juan] Namnun always says, 'All we need is for you to throw strikes.' "

He laughed. "I've been hearin' that since I was 7. From my first coach. That's what I do need to do, and always try to do."