Felix Torraca-Dedos had to laugh to keep from . . . not crying. From snapping out.

In the second inning of yesterday's Public League Class AA baseball final, Esperanza (charter) Academy's infielders committed one, two, three, four, five, six errors.

As the circus continued, it was a wonder Torraca-Dedos, a 5-9, 160-pound senior righthander, didn't dig up the pitching rubber and start clubbing guys on the head.

"Well, I did think, 'These guys are killin' me,' " Torraca-Dedos said, laughing. "I thought I was doing a really good job of working the ball around, keeping it in spots where their good hitters couldn't make good contact.

"These were the kind of grounders that should be easy little outs. There were bobbles, bad throws, guys not even getting in front of the ball the right way . . . "

The worse things got, the more Torraca-Dedos encouraged his teammates. In fact, he almost bruised his hand from back-pats.

"I figure if I pull myself down, we're really going to be in trouble," he said. "I'm the only senior starter. One of only two seniors on the team. I have to show the way. Be the leader."

Esperanza wound up besting visiting Prep Charter, 12-5, at Front and Erie, to not only win AA honors but a spot in tomorrow's overall quarterfinals (opponent TBD).

Torraca-Dedos went the distance, allowing six hits and no earned runs. Also, he went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI.

Entering the home fifth, the Toros trailed, 5-2. Torraca-Dedos started an eight-run outburst with a single and capped it with a ground-rule, three-run homer high into the trees that front the cemetery beyond the leftfield fence.

When asked to describe his blast, the personable Torraca-Dedos said excitedly, "Let me tell you about my first homer . . . Yup, that's the first of my career. Everybody can see how small I am. I get hits by poking the ball."

He continued, "That first pitcher, he had me frustrated. His pitches were so slow, it was like JV ball. I was so anxious. But I calmed myself down for that third at-bat and got the single. Later they switched to a regular pitcher with a decent fastball and a curve I could [detect] because of his hand rotation. I was so happy to see that guy.

"When I came up again, I was ready. I stepped into it. Turned my hips perfect . . . Man, that ball went so far! I was, like, at second base when I saw it going into the trees. My coach [John Grone] was going, 'Slow down! It's a home run!' I was still running. But the idea that I just hit my first home run in a game for the AA title, in my last game on our home field. I'm tellin' ya, I had butterflies in my stomach."

Briefly, they stopped fluttering. A base ump wanted to call it a ground-rule double. However, homers at the ol' Lighthouse Field can be awarded if someone feels that result would have been a certainty if not for the trees. The plate guy saw it that way.

Also productive at the plate for Esperanza were Jovanny Zavala (two doubles, two RBI) and Aderly Perez (3-for-4, three RBI). Michael "Beef" Sandefur had PC's lone RBI.

Torraca-Dedos, who lives near D & Wyoming, in Feltonville, is bound for Salem County (junior) College, in South Jersey, as a projected middle infielder. He intends to major in sports management.

Anger management? Not a problem.

"Later we were laughing, singing and cheering," he said. "We still knew we couldn't sleep on them, but the [atmosphere] was much better. Yeah, we looked bad for a while there. But you know what? We had no more errors. I knew I had to show leadership."