A little less than 20 months ago, Hurricane Sandy rendered some of the Beach Channel High School baseball players homeless.
Coach John Mangieri was even forced to stay with his in-laws for six weeks because his Howard Beach home was too badly damaged.
Now, the 12 Rockaway high school ballplayers are more than just survivors.
They are champions, too.
After being knocked out in the first round of the Public School Athletic League B Division playoffs the last three years, Beach Channel finally got over the hump.
Led by timely hitting and clutch defense, the Dolphins defeated Bronx Science 7-5 in nine innings to win the city baseball championship at Yankee Stadium last Thursday, the first in school history.
“There were a lot of distractions last year. It was a horrible time in their lives,” Mangieri said of his team’s ability to overcome such adversity. “But this was a tremendous experience for them. This will stay with these kids for a long time.”
If it weren’t for one of the more dramatic plays of the city high school baseball season, the real-life rags to riches story wouldn’t have had such a happy ending.
Down to their final two outs, Bronx Science was able to erase a 5-3 deficit after a drive to center field by Daniel Bonfiglio tipped off outfielder Antonio Moccia’s glove.
Normally a very solid defensive player, Moccia overran the ball and couldn’t quite make a difficult leaping catch. Two runs scored on the play, forcing Mangieri to pull Kelly Aponte, his star senior pitcher, from the game.
With the bases loaded and one out, Bronx Science’s Alex Grun hit a long fly ball to Moccia. He made the catch in moderately deep center field for the second out and launched a perfect throw to catcher Joe Calandra, who managed to tag Ben Kravitz out at the plate to complete the double play as he attempted to score the championship-winning run.
“I thought we were finished. With less than two outs and the winning run 90 feet away, there was a good chance they were going to score,” Mangieri said. “But [Moccia] came up huge. He picked himself and his team up. It brought the whole stadium into the game, it was amazing.”
Despite blowing the lead, Beach Channel players and fans alike erupted with excitement. The Dolphins held off Bronx Science for two more innings until Sergio Galdamez and David Polanco drove in the go-ahead runs with a walk and a single, respectively, in the ninth.
Marvin Hernandez struck out Kravitz to end the game, sending his teammates into a frenzy as they all threw their gloves in the air and jumped on each other on the pitcher’s mound.
Less than two years after some of his players didn’t know where they would be sleeping at night, Mangieri said it was his team’s attitude that propelled them to a title.
“I’ve been saying all year how tough these kids are,” he said. “We might not be the best team in the league, but these kids found a way to stay together and get it done.”