Preceding this weekend, the John F. Kennedy baseball team had played 19 games during the regular season and playoffs combined. The Knights had won 18 of them, allowed seven runs or more twice, riding winning tenets such as timely hitting, reliable defense and consistent pitching to the Bronx A West crown and PSAL Class A semifinals.
“We only lost one game and after that we played flawless baseball,” Kennedy coach Alex Torres said.
That wouldn’t be the proper adjective to describe their weekend in Coney Island.
No. 1 Norman Thomas swept No. 1 Kennedy in the best-of-three semifinal series, eliminating them Sunday in an unsightly 14-0 victory at KeySpan Park during which the Knights committed a season-high seven errors to undermine the effort of ace Yoel Peralta. That was less than 24 hours after basically giving away a 7-6 loss with base running mistakes and fielding errors.
“That’s not us at all,” Peralta said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Said Torres: “My guys weren’t used to making mistakes and they didn’t know how to respond from it.”
Saturday night, Torres talked about his kids needing to play a smarter game on Sunday against Tigers ace Mariel Checo, the top high-school prospect in the city. Instead, Torres said, they had lost their confidence and compounded their miscues.
It started in the second with runners at the corners and one out. Shortstop Frank Estevez fielded a routine three-hopper off the bat of Darlyn Gonzalez. Rather than taking the out at first, he went home, bounced the throw, allowing one run to score and setting up Jerry Mena’s RBI ground out.
It got worse from there. Thomas scored three times in the third and fourth in the fourth, aided by errors by second baseman Jonathan Nevarez and right fielder Roberto Cabral, to put the game away.
“I think everybody was nervous to be on the big field,” Peralta said. “It’s an experience to learn from.”
Said Torres: “We relied on our defense all year and today it didn’t help us.”
In the bottom of the fourth, catcher Sammy Dominguez gave Kennedy something to smile about – its first hit against Checo, one of two against the hard-throwing righty for the Knights the entire afternoon.
“We made Checo look like Roger Clemens,” Estevez, the shortstop, said. “I was embarrassed when we didn’t have any hits.”
Still, there were several reasons for Kennedy to hold its head high. The Knights entered the season an unknown, outside of Dominguez, relying on sophomores such as Isael Lagares at third base and Pedro Taveras in centerfield. The underclassmen, in tandem with seniors such as first baseman Bennie Fair, designated hitter Victor Arias, outfielder Wilman Polanco, Peralta and Estevez, produced a memorable season, full of heart-pounding comebacks and “Just to be in the semifinals,” Estevez said, “it’s a great feeling. “