2023 FSL Baseball Champions - Friends' Central School - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
Photos/Videos: Marc Narducci & Lennie Malmgren
By: Marc Narducci
WYNNEWOOD, PA -- Before the celebration began and the pictures started snapping, Friends' Central baseball coach Jon Rubin stood at the middle of the field and addressed his players, their friends and families who were all gathered around for what is becoming a customary ritual.
Friends' Central had just won its third straight Friends League championship with an 11-1 home win over Westtown in six innings and the veteran winning coach wanted to salute his old guys first.
There were four senior starters in the game for the champions – pitcher Lucca Frattone, centerfielder Darius Adkins, shortstop Julian Abreu and catcher Alejandro Flores.
These four players didn’t get to perform their freshman year due to COVID.
All this group did was help Friends' Central go 30-0 in Friends League games enroute to winning the three consecutive titles.
This was also the third straight 20-win season.
“The leadership that Darius, Alejandro, Lucca and Julian provide has been exceptional,” Rubin said, off to the side, after the celebration had begun. “They are really model community members, they are incredibly passionate about baseball, and they work their tails off, so their commitment to the sport is off the charts.”
Rubin was just getting warmed up.
“They totally get the concept of team,” he said. “They’re incredibly selfless and it’s really fulfilling to have this run with those four kids.”
Obviously, it took more than four players, but it was this quartet that set the tone.
And oh yes, one other thing about them – they are pretty darn good baseball players, all going to play the sport in college.
Frattone, who allowed three hits in going the distance, will attend Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut.
Flores, who has been a three-year starter at catcher, is headed to Penn State-Harrisburg.
Adkins, the fleet center fielder, will take his talents down the road to St. Joseph’s University. Not only was his freshman season lost to COVID, but he missed his sophomore season due to injury, but has been a major offensive and defensive catalyst the past two years.
And Abreu, the short-handed shortstop, has signed with Marist.
Abreu sure showed his versatility during his career. As a sophomore he was the starting right fielder in the championship game. Last season he started at second base.
FCS coach Jon Rubin with senior (L-R) Alejandro Flores, Julian Abreu, Darius Adkins & Lucca Frattone - PSD Photo by Marc Narducci
There is so much depth in this program that he had to wait until his senior season to start at shortstop, a position that fits him like a glove, with a rifle arm and the hands of a magician.
These four have formed an unbreakable bond.
“We have accomplished all this stuff together and we have been playing outside of school together for a while,” Adkins said of the four starting seniors. “We are best friends, super close and hopefully we stay super close throughout college as well.”
Winning tends to tighten those bonds.
“Winning means everything,” said Abreu, who broke the game open with a three-run double in the fourth inning that extended Friends' Central’s lead to 7-0. “From the beginning of every season it’s been our goal to come out here and win every (Friends League) game because we knew we were capable of doing it, so to come here and see it come to fruition, means everything to us.”
The fact that these seniors had their freshman season taken away was not easy, but the four certainly persevered.
“It was brutal losing our freshman year,” Abreu said. “We lost valuable playing time, but we were able to battle through adversity and come out here and win.”
Recently, the Friends League baseball championship has been a streaky endeavor.
Shipley won five consecutive championships before the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID. Then it has been Friends' Central the past three years.
So excuse players such as catcher Flores, who expected nothing less than a third straight tile.
“It feels like the norm at this point,” said Flores, who was 1-for-3 in the title game and was also hit by a pitch. “We had the whole team being clutch during the season and just doing what we can against these Friends League teams.”
FCS coach Jon Rubin gets doused with a celebratory bucket of water after winning the title - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
FCS celebrates after winning the FSL title - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
Westtown Baseball - 2023 FSL Runner-Up - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
While the players, Rubin, and his staff expected this success, they also refused take any shortcuts. This is a fundamentally sound team that played both small ball and longball against Westtown.
Actually, this game was just 2-0 Friends' Central though three innings, courtesy of a two-run double by second baseman Brendan Aiken in the first inning.
The lead increased to 7-0 in the fourth when Adkins was issued a bases loaded walk, Pablo Spielman-Rodriguez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Abreu uncorked his three-run double. From there, the runs kept adding on, until the game ended on Luke Makuen’s RBI single in the sixth inning.
Westtown (10-7) scored its lone run on Jackson Young’s RBI double in the fifth inning.
Despite the outcome, this has been a year of progress for Westtown, which like Friends Central will compete in the upcoming Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) Tournament.
“I think our team has battled really well this year and to get back here after four years was awesome,” Westtown coach Kurt Kebaugh said.
Kebaugh was referring to the fact that this was Westtown’s first year in the title game since losing 9-1 to Shipley in the 2019 final.
“Between Shipley winning it five straight and now them winning three straight, we kind of look up to them as programs I have tried to model myself after,” Kebaugh said. “It was good to get back here, but we have to get over the hump of the other two schools that we are kind of chasing right now.”
In all three of the championship years, Friends' Central had exemplary senior leadership. This year’s four starters will be difficult to replace, but they have helped teach the underclassmen how it works. Those lessons have been invaluable.
No detail is too small, no task too big and no sacrifice is too great. These were the messages passed on to the current seniors when they were sophomores.
They not only learned their lessons well, but taught them in such a manner, that it earned them another victory celebration, one that will always be cherished but never taken for granted.
By Jeremy Goode
Photos: Ryan Nix
Friends' Central turned to Matt Hamilton on the mound against Germantown Friends on May 11, 2023 in the Friends School League semi-finals.
Boy, did he deal.
Hamilton’s no hit five innings on the mound help lead the Phoenix to the Friends League championship game, as Friends' Central comfortably put away the visiting Germantown Friends School Tigers, 8-2.
“Matt has been exceptional all year; we were looking forward to having him out there this game,” Friends' Central coach Jon Rubin said. “He kept us in it… and it is very comforting to be out there knowing that Matt is just dealing and that the other team is going to have a hard time scoring.”
The final score does not tell the story of the first four innings, during which Friends' Central held on to a 1-0 led from the bottom of the second inning on. In fact, the Tigers sent out their own ace, College of the Holy Cross commit Daniel Maffety. It would not be until the fifth inning that the Phoenix would break the game open and record a six-run inning, giving themselves a 7-0 lead going into the final two innings.
Friends' Central pitcher Matt Hamilton #7 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
After a scoreless first, Friends' Central played a little small ball in pushing across the first run. Brendan Aiken began the inning getting to first safely by a bunt down the third base line. Shane McGarry followed with an infield single between shortstop and the third baseman.
Caleb Bachman then bunted down the third base line for a single to load the bases. Lucca Frattone would follow by hitting into a double play, but at the same time scoring Aiken from third base. Maffety would get the next batter to ground out to second to escape the jam, down only one run.
After striking out the side in the top of the second inning, Hamilton retired the first two batters with a strikeout and an acrobatic catch by catcher Alejandro Flores. After Friends' Central let a runner on, who moved to second base due to an error and then eventually stole third, Hamilton forced a ground out to second to hold on to the lead going into the bottom of the third.
Hamilton continued to deal in the fourth, striking out the side. He would follow his quick fourth inning of work with another one-two-three inning in the top of the fifth, striking out the side twice in a row.
“The plan is always to go out there and fill up the zone,” Hamilton said. “Fastball was working really well today, so I relied on that pretty heavily and it got the job done.”
Flores, who was responsible for calling the game behind the plate for the Phoenix, noted how dialed in and productive Hamilton was on the mound for the pivotal playoff matchup.
“Matt was just attacking the bottom of the zone; tried my best to help him out there,” Flores said. “He was able to get his fastball by the hitters; they really just could not hit him.”
Rubin, Hamilton, and Flores all noted the team went like they were in control throughout the entire game, but a six-run fifth inning really solidified their efforts and put the game away.
After they were able to load the bases with the first three batters, the Phoenix turned once again to small ball to bring in several runs. Pablo Spielman Rodriguez flew out to deep center, scoring Frattone as he tagged up from third. Julian Abreu followed with a sacrifice fly of his own to left field, increasing Friends' Central’s lead to 4-0.
With two outs Flores then singled to left field, stole a few bases, and then eventually stole home on a passed ball -- there was a close play at the plate but with Flores’ strong initial jump, he was able to beat the throw.
“It was great for me to show off my speed, but also great to keep the momentum alive, especially with two outs in that big inning.”
It is something Rubin preaches to his team throughout the year. They practice the fundamentals that may not be as sexy as launch angle or other popular analytical modern baseball statistics. It certainly paid off against the Tigers. Even with two outs, Flores was able to start the process of adding on another three runs that inning for Friends' Central, all through his and his teammates snagging bases with smart base running.
“We spend a lot of time on base running and we emphasize it as a program, and we take pride in it,” Rubin said. “As a coach, it was very satisfying to see the guys execute. Literally, our offense today was all about execution.”
It was just one of those games where Friends' Central was able to break down GFS by their third time through the lineup.
Michael McGarry plated a run home on a deep single to right field that got through the right fielder, as he advanced to third base. Frattone would conclude the scoring for the Phoenix in the fifth with his second single of the inning, scoring one, and improving their lead to 7 runs.
After the six-run bottom half of the fifth, Rubin pulled Hamilton from the mound after 69 pitches, hoping to save him for the championship game if he needed to come in for relief. In his five innings of work, Hamilton recorded 12 strikeouts and a no-hitter.
“They had a pretty good start of the lineup; first four guys had to attack them pretty well,” Hamilton said. “So, it was nice when I would get through them and could just roll through with fastballs.”
Michael Mamaluy would throw a scoreless sixth for Friends' Central. The Phoenix would add on another run, while the Tigers would put of rally of their own together, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Mamaluy buckled down to record a strikeout for the third out, advancing Friends' Central to the Friends School League Championship game.
“It was our goal to be playing in the championship and we have the opportunity to do that,” Rubin said. “I am thrilled for our group; they have worked incredibly hard for months and months, so to see it paying the dividends is very exciting.”