By John Torenli
Grand Street's Ernesto Lopez had a season for the ages and a career that any high school senior would be proud of. But there was one thing missing entering last Friday's Public School Athletic League Championship Game at Coney Island's MCU Park: the Brooklyn school's first-ever city championship.
Thanks to a towering solo home run from the fourth-year catcher, a brilliant complete-game effort by senior starter Geraldo Gonzalez and the clutch hitting of University of Maryland-bound third baseman Kevin Martir, the Wolves captured that elusive title with a 2-1 victory over uptown powerhouse George Washington on an emotional night for long-time coach Melvin Martinez.
"The coaches made us what we are," Lopez said humbly after clearing the left-field wall at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones with his fourth-inning blast, providing what proved to be the winning run. "They've been there with us all year. These have been the best four years of my life, and to win it all in my senior year ... You couldn't ask for anything better."
Lopez was named the league's Wingate Award winner as the PSAL MVP this season after posting Triple Crown-winning numbers with a .610 batting average, five homers and 26 RBIs while leading the Wolves to a Brooklyn AA-best 15-1 mark during the regular season. He struggled a bit during Grand Street's six-game run to the championship, however, managing only two hits in 12 at-bats. But his homer Friday night will go down as the biggest hit in the history of the program.
Martinez, who has chased the city crown during his long, successful but at times frustrating tenure at Grand Street, was overwhelmed not only by his team's success in the championship tilt, but by the appearance of his father, who attended Friday's game despite his ongoing battle with leukemia.
"Wow. I'm still feeling it," Martinez told the Eagle on Tuesday. "There are no words to describe how I'm feeling. I'm so overwhelmed with joy. I've been waiting 17 years for this. We've had some excellent teams in the wonderful history of Grand Street Campus and we've always come up short. At one point, I thought it was a curse against us. We overcame that obstacle and went on to finally win it. I thought we were long overdue. Finally, officially, we won one."
The long-awaited goal was reached thanks mainly to the pitching of Gonzalez, who yielded one earned run on four hits over seven scintillating innings, striking out four without issuing a single walk in the biggest game of his life.
"I knew this was big for me and the team," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound hurler. "I have their back and they got my back. It was a huge win for us.”
The victory was made even bigger by the opponent as GW has consistently foiled Grand Street's chances on the way to collecting a bushel of its own city titles.
"Of course [it makes it sweeter to beat them]," Martinez added. "They've singlehandedly knocked us out of the playoffs a half-dozen times during my 17 years here. Not only that, just the fact that we dedicated this season to my father who is fighting cancer makes it so special. I'm constantly fighting back tears."
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In other local baseball news, former Xaverian High School star Hassan Evans was selected in the 38th round of last week's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs. Evans, who spent last season at Herkimer County Community College in Herkimer, N.Y., had previously signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Division I Delaware State.
While several big league clubs considered selecting Evans earlier in the draft, hoping to develop him into a pitcher, the Brooklyn native was picked by the Cubs for his prowess as a power-hitting outfielder — his preferred position. Evans, who topped out at 97 miles per hour from the mound, was named Herkimer's Male Athlete of the Year this past season after hitting .389 with four homers, seven doubles, six triples and 34 RBIs.
"He is just an unbelievable athlete," Herkimer coach Jason Rathbun said of Evans. "He is a five-tool guy that really developed over his two years here. Hassan went from a free swinging hitter who hit .305 as a freshman, to a player with more discipline at the plate, and really improved his numbers his sophomore year. I think Hassan has a lot to prove with his hitting and will continue to get better as he moves on in his baseball career.”
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Off the diamond and onto the hardwood, former Lincoln High School basketball star Shaquille Stokes is reportedly expected to transfer from the University of Hawaii to Hofstra University, citing family reasons and a desire to be closer to home.
The Coney Island native average 8.4 points and 2.2 assists per game as a freshman for the Warriors after a stellar four-year career with the Railsplitters that saw him capture a city championship while developing into one of the top overall players in the Public School Athletic League.
Stokes' grandmother took ill recently, and his family wanted him to return to Brooklyn. Though the NCAA normally requires a transferring student-athlete to sit out for a season, Stokes is appealing the process and hoping to suit up for Hofstra in 2012-13 to begin fulfilling his final three years of athletic eligibility.
"He actually talked about leaving several times earlier in the season, but we talked it through,” Hawaii coach Gib Anrold said. “But this time … he’s close to his grandmother, who helped raise him, and she got sick and took a turn for the worse last week. He actually wanted to leave right away, but we told him he needs to finish school if he wants to keep playing (basketball), whether it’s here or back home, so that’s what he’s going to do.”
“It felt like the best situation for me,” Stokes recently told SportsNet New York. “My family loved the visit. The coaches are an unbelievable coaching staff with great fire and passion to change the program around. It felt like (high school) all over again walking through the doors. ... I’m going to be a more complete player and show people that I can bring more to the table besides scoring like running a team and just doing anything to win games."