High school baseball playoffs are on the horizon

With the end of the regular season nearly upon us, here is a closer look at the state of some of the area’s top baseball programs on the eve of the postseason (records through Monday):

Catholic League

Father Judge: 6–7, Catholic Red

Despite a string of three straight recent losses to division opponents (two to La Salle, one to Roman Catholic), head coach Tim Ginter’s young Crusader bunch has put together a solid season while playing an always-unforgiving league schedule. Before the three losses, Judge won five straight: one against Roman, two against St. Joe’s Prep and two more against Public League stalwarts Franklin Towne Charter and Phila. Academy Charter. Junior Ryan O’Neill has hit .404 with 16 runs scored, 14 RBI and a .533 on-base percentage; he’s also 2–2 with a 3.02 ERA on the mound and will start the Crusaders’ playoff opener on Saturday. Judge finishes up this week with a pair against Cardinal O’Hara.

Archbishop Ryan: 5–8, Catholic Red

In his first season as head coach, Gerry Eck’s Raiders have had a bit of an uneven slate, but have come around recently, winning four of their last six. They took two of three from Roman, split a series with O’Hara (8–5 division) and throttled non-league opponent Pope John Paul II 13–3 on April 26. Ryan is led by seniors Bobby Romano, Tom Derer and Connor Golden. The Raiders can improve their division standing heading into the playoff with two final contests on the schedule this week against the Prep (2–10, last place).

Public League

Franklin Towne Charter (PIAA Class AAA): 9–0–1, Public League Division A

With a home game against second-place George Washington remaining on Friday, Towne can lock up the division’s top seed in the playoffs with a win over the Eagles, or a Washington loss earlier in the week to Masterman. Towne, led by head coach Chris Lauber and captains Steve Callahan, Chris Hammerstein and Brian Bradley, is looking to win its first Public League championship after fanning in the 2013 title game.

George Washington (Class AAAA): 7–1, Division A

Aside from a lone division blemish to Prep Charter on April 9, it’s been smooth sailing for Ken Geiser’s Eagles. Armed with a powerful lineup full of ferocious bats and two effective starting pitchers (senior Roger Hanson and sophomore Eddie Tingle), Washington believes it has what it takes to go on a championship run. As junior first baseman Ishmael Bracy said, “What’s the point of playing if you’re not going for the big one?” Washington finishes up with two this week against Masterman and Franklin Towne, followed by one on Monday against Frankford.

Frankford (Class AAAA): 6–3, Division A

Despite not returning a starter from last year’s team that won its third straight Public League championship game, head coach Juan Namnun’s team is in the hunt as always. Armed with a plethora of freshmen and sophomores oozing potential, the Pioneer pups have three games remaining, one against a struggling program (Edison) and two against top dogs (Washington, PACS). One of those youngsters, Gio Burgos, has come into his own lately both on the mound and in the batting order.

Philadelphia Academy Charter (Class AA): 6–3, Division A

Despite a mid-season slide that saw Jack Smith’s team lose four of five, the Chargers still hope to enter the postseason with a wave of momentum. Led by senior Eric Heisler, junior Anthony Pickens and sophomore Shane McGroaty, PACS is looking to finish strong with two of its final three games coming against losing teams (GAMP, Northeast) in addition to a showdown at Frankford.

Lincoln (Class AAAA): 6–4, Division A

John Larsen’s Railsplitters are another squad jockeying for prime playoff position. At 6–4, Lincoln finishes up against Northeast and GAMP, two teams at the bottom of the Division A standings. The Railsplitters are paced by Justin Carlson, who does damage on the mound and in the middle of the lineup, as well as dynamic leadoff hitter Eric Cintron, who has 21 hits in 38 at-bats (.552 average) with a .789 on-base percentage.

Editor’s note: Northeast (Class AAAA, 1–8 Division A), Swenson (Class AAA, 6–3 Division B), Fels (Class AAAA, 3–7 Division B), Rush (Class A, 5–3 Division C), Tacony Charter (Class AA, 8–2 Division D) and New Foundations (Class AAA, 7–2 Division D) are other area schools still in play. The Public League’s playoff bracket, in accordance with the PIAA, is designed to produce a winner from each class (A, AA, AAA, AAAA). Teams are seeded by class before division, with Class AAAA having the most postseason eligible teams; after these class brackets are played out, four teams are left remaining (the top one from each class). Then, on May 23, the “Tournament of Champions” matches the winners from Class A vs. AAAA in one semifinal, and Class AA vs. AAA in the other. The winners of those two games will play for the league title on May 27. ••