Grand Street coach Melvin Martinez is lifted in the air by his team after winning the PSAL title.
Much of the discussion this year about Grand Street Campus has been focused on their dangerous batting order. The Maryland-bound duo Jose Cuas and Kevin Martir were a few of the big bats guiding the Wolves to their first-ever city championship game.
Wolves coach Melvin Martinez says it quite often that Gerry Gonzalez may be the best No. 7 hitter in the league. Gonzalez also proved his worth with an impressive left arm that nearly shut down George Washington’s mighty lineup, limiting the Trojans to one run on five hits in a complete-game performance to lead Grand Street Campus to its first PSAL Class A title Friday night at MCU Park in Coney Island.
The Wolves ended their historic run on an impressive 20-game winning streak after falling to Midwood 9-8 in the second game of the year March 27.
Gonzalez became a very important cog this season as the No. 1 pitcher when Wily Santana was declared ineligible midway through the season. The Grand Street hurler mixed his curveball and changeup by holding the Trojans hitless through the four innings. Gonzalez used his fastball effectively to get out of jams in the fifth and the seventh innings with just one run allowed.
“I needed a performance like this,” Gonzalez said. “We had a lot of guys fall off, mainly pitchers. So I knew this was big for me and the team. I have their back and they got my back. It was a huge win for us.”
The Wolves lineup scratched out two runs against Trojans starter Edwin Corniel. In the first inning, Martir lined a run-scoring triple to left-center field with two outs to plate Elijah Rodriguez. Ernesto Lopez drove the first pitch from the right-hander in the fourth inning deep over the left field wall for a solo home run.
The two runs were enough for second-seeded Grand Street (21-1), which had to sweat in the top of the seventh inning as the Trojans pushed to tie the game. With two runners on and two outs, Randy Rodriguez grounded the ball back to Gonzalez, and the lefty lobbed the ball high in the air, just in time to first baseman Kelvin Flores to end the game.
It capped off an emotional day and a season for Martinez, who said all he could do was look up in the crowd and shed tears of joy.
It was at MCU Park last June when the Wolves skipper contemplated retirement following his team’s two-game sweep against Tottenville, a third unsuccessful trip to the semifinals. Martinez wasn’t sure if he had the energy to continue leading a program which had just felt short once again of getting to the big game.
His team successfully begged Martinez to return for his 17th year and promised their coach a city championship. After Williams Jerez was drafted last year, Martir arrived from Xaverian to add a boost of power and a lot of confidence after helping lead the Clippers to the CHSAA Class AA title as junior. Grand Street was also a bit wiser, and gained the feel of a champion.
“There are no words to even explain the joy I felt when we got that third out,” Martinez said. “It was 17 years. There are coaches I know who haven’t won a championship. I have had some good teams I though deserved to get to a championship and didn’t.”
Lopez jolted the large number of fans behind the Grand Street dugout in the bottom of the fourth. The starting catcher, who will join Gonzalez in the fall at JUCO Louisiana State University-Eunice, crushed the first pitch he saw over the wall in left to increase the Wolves lead to 2-0.
“When I struck out [in the first inning] I went to the dugout and I pictured in my head saying what would have happened if I hit it out?“ Lopez said. “When it happened I couldn’t believe, I was running around the bases excited.”
The fourth-seeded Trojans (19-3) got on the scoreboard after breaking up the no-hit bid in the top of the fifth inning. Henry Rodriguez had a run-scoring single to slice the deficit to 2-1. But with two outs, Michael Richardson was tagged out on a grounder back to Gonzalez, who amped up the crowd by pumping his arms to end the threat.
“I think we let him get into a rhythm and didn’t break up his rhythm at all,” George Washington coach Steve Mandl said.
Mandl wasn’t pleased his lineup couldn’t feature Fernelys Sanchez. The outfielder had returned from a broken fibula at the start of the playoffs, and added punch and leadership to the team. Sanchez was drafted on Wednesday by the Atlanta Braves in the 16th round.
Mandl said the Major League team and Sanchez’s adviser told the longtime coach not to start his senior due to health reasons. Mandl wasn’t sure why two other Atlanta draftees were able to compete in the NCAA Super Regionals, but not Sanchez.
“It would have been a different game with him out there. Believe me,” Mandl said. “We’re a good team. He was down most of the year and we won. It would have helped us, but we’ve been there before.”
Martinez, meanwhile, found inspiration from his father, who continued to battle through chemotherapy treatment Friday for cancer and leukemia and yet sat in the front row. It was more proof that Martinez made the right choice to return to coach another year.
“What would anybody do when you make a promise? They did everything in their power to keep it,” Martinez added. “They kept that promise.”