Whenever Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, and Bishop Loughlin H.S., Fort Greene, square off in a city championship game, it’s almost undoubtedly a basketball game. However, the spring varsity baseball season wrapped up with the Royals and Lions going head to head on the diamond for a varsity city crown.
On May 31, Christ the King capped off a historic season with a 5-1 victory over Bishop Loughlin in the CHSAA ‘A’ Division city title game played at Jack Kaiser Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University, Jamaica.
The victory marked the first time in 31 years that the Royals hoisted the championship trophy. It also meant Christ the King became the first baseball team in program history to finish the season undefeated – a perfect 16-0 – in CHSAA league play.
The win is also significant because this was the first season of just one baseball team at the school. Previously, Christ the King fielded both freshmen and junior varsity teams. This year, those underclassmen were expected to perform on the varsity stage.
With just 15 total players and six returners from last season, the Royals began their journey finishing the fall season with a 9-3 record. From that moment on, the team was determined to improve.
“I knew that we had a good team,” said head coach Steve Martinez, a 1998 graduate of Christ the King who played four years of baseball there. “It was just a matter of the underclassmen accepting their roles and the veterans relaying the program’s message.”
Having just completed his fourth season, Martinez made it a point this winter to have players work on their conditioning. From November through March, the student-athletes worked out twice per week, which built up their strength as well as their camaraderie.
“Our strength was the team chemistry,” said senior catcher Pedro Tejada, who batted a whopping .561 on the year with just one strikeout, which came in his final at-bat. “It was much greater than last year.
“Especially the training in the offseason that we did together, it just united us even more. We pushed each other as hard as we could, and everyone was doing their best. Hard work always pays off.”
A strong regular season earned the Royals the No. 1 seed in the city championship tournament to go along with byes through the first and second rounds of the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, Christ the King defeated St. Edmund Prep, Sheepshead Bay.
All season, the players stepped up their game throughout the most adverse situations. Facing Msgr. Scanlan H.S., the Bronx, in the semifinals, Royals ace pitcher, senior Joshua Vega, reached his pitch count after five innings in a tight game.
Though dealing with an arm injury, junior Bryan Jerez gutted his way through the sixth inning to protect a one-run lead. At that point, Tejada – normally the team’s starting catcher – took the mound in relief. In fact, he specifically asked for the ball.
Still leading by a run, Tejada escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out the final two batters to send the Royals to the championship game.
Vega took the ball to start and was virtually unhittable. He tossed a complete game while scattering only four hits and allowing only one unearned run, striking out 16. There’s no doubt the ace saved his best for last.
“I just wanted to treat it as a normal game and keep my emotions low,” said Vega, who posted a 7-0 record during the season with a 2.10 ERA and 71 strikeouts. “It definitely felt good to end my high school career on a good note.
“The feeling was unbelievable. Not many people get to experience that feeling. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Martinez credits his assistant coaches – Eddie Espada, Jose Valentin, Robert Benzinger, Alexander Cuas and Cesar Jimenez – for their dedication in helping the Royals earn the title.
He said the last few weeks have been a whirlwind, as he received messages of congratulations from many former players, including current New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances, who Martinez coached while at Grand Street Campus H.S., Williamsburg.
“He (Betances) texted me to congratulate me and said, ‘Great coaches do great things,’” Martinez said. “That made me very proud.”
After 31 years, the entire Christ the King community is very proud that the city crown is back in Middle Village.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.