Santos helps Pioneers win third straight crown

Frankford celebrates after winning its third straight Public League championship. CONTRIBUTED

Abenego Santos could get by on talent.

But because of those around him, he continues to get better.

Santos is a junior pitcher on the Frankford High School baseball team and he’s been throwing since he was around 10 years old. Prior to high school, he had a mom who was always pushing him to get better. And since he arrived at Frankford, he’s had even more guidance helping him along.

“My mom loves baseball,” said Santos, who lives near Castor and Richmond avenues. “She would tell me to watch it with her. She said you get better by watching. So we would watch. She loves baseball. I loved watching with her and learning.”

He still gets lessons from mom, but now he has even more help. His new helpers are Frankford legends who get him ready for anything.

“I’m so lucky to have Coach (Juan) Namnun, he has helped me so much,” Santos said. “Not just baseball, either. He helps me with everything. He always tells me how to get better and makes me practice to get better.

“Coach (Joe) Farina also helps me a lot. He was a pitcher, he pitched (at Frankford). Both Coach Namnun and Coach Farina want me to get better. They work with me. They help me so much.”

Their work is paying off.

On Friday, behind a gem from Santos, Frankford defeated Olney 6-1 in the Public League championship at FDR Park in South Philly. The win gives the Pioneers their third straight Public League championship.

The Pioneers will go on to play host Archbishop Wood in the District 12 Class 5A championship on Wednesday.

The offense was led by Rico Lugo, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. His big blow was a two-run double that gave Santos all he needed. The junior went the distance and said he felt just as strong in the seventh inning as he did when the game started.

“I don’t get tired out there, I don’t know why,” said Santos, who last year was the team’s closer and picked up the save in the team’s championship win. “I like starting better. I like going as far as I can to help the team.

“I felt really confident when the game started because of who was playing with me. We have the best coaches, and I have the best teammates. They all pushed me to do better. They tell me, ‘Go Santos!’ I just pitched, and they helped me. We are a really good team.”

Frankford rolled through its schedule for most of the year but had a rough ending to the regular season, losing three of its final four. Two of the losses were to Central, a team Olney beat in the semifinals. The other loss was to the Trojans.

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but perhaps the setbacks helped the Pioneers refocus for the playoffs.

“I was sitting in my office and I didn’t mind losing those games because I’m thinking, maybe it’s good that we get knocked down a peg or two,” said Namnun, who has guided the Pioneers to seven championships since taking over for Bob Peffle 12 seasons ago. “We had crazy success in the beginning of the year, we were ranked third in the state. We got accolades from everyone.

“You don’t want to lose, but if you’re going to, it’s better to do it in the regular season than the playoffs, and that was my attitude. I think it showed everyone we had to work for it, and they did.”

Because of the schedule, the Pioneers head into the unofficial city championship game with Wood with a rested rotation.

No decision has been made yet, but Santos will have had five days off by the matchup with Wood, so every pitcher will likely be available.

Santos will be ready if his number is called, and he’s not just throwing for himself. He’s throwing mostly for the seniors on the team who will be playing in their final games as a Pioneer.

“The seniors were good, they helped me, they helped all of us,” Santos said. “We do have a lot of guys who will be here next year, and I’m really proud of that. I’m proud that we will be good this year and next year. I’m proud of everyone.”

Santos will return and he’ll continue to work on his pitching. He believes his fastball clocks in around the mid-80s and he also has an effective change-up that keeps hitters off balance. He wants to continue to work with his coaches to develop more pitches while continuing to improve on his out pitches.

Either way, he’ll be ready for his senior year where he’ll try to help the Pioneers win a fourth straight championship.

“I’m really excited to be coming back,” Santos said. “We are so much better because of our coaches. I really want to thank my coaches and my teammates because they are the reason we won. They help me. I try to help them.

“I’m proud to come back as a senior and have another chance. I love playing here. I love my coaches and my teammates. If I can help them win, I’ll be really proud. I do it for my coaches, my mom and my teammates. They help me, I want to make them proud.”