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Poly Prep wakes up just in time, extending streak with furious rally

Poly Prep’s 52-game Ivy league winning streak was six outs from ending. The crowd was quiet and the opposing bench full of smiles.

Yet there was no hint of desperation from the Blue Devils.

The dugout was loud and loose, almost surprisingly so after five lifeless innings. Marcus Hernandez told J.J. Franco it was time to pull a Trinity, referring to the shortstop’s three-run, seventh-inning triple to steal a victory last year. Second baseman E.J. Martinez and centerfielder Marley Randazzo talked about having six outs to play with — like they were too many.

“We were all pretty confident we were gonna come back,” said Franco, the son of the former New York Mets closer.

What followed only added to that belief.

Poly Prep rallied for four runs on four hits in the frame, claiming a come-from-behind, 6-4 victory over Fieldston in Bay Ridge on April 13. It helped that the Brown-bound Franco, who sat out the first four innings with a sore hamstring, batted with one out and none on in the sixth.

“He’s the engine that makes everything happen for us,” coach Matt Roventini said.

Franco, indeed, started the rally with an infield single. Randazzo was hit by a pitch, causing Fieldston coach Tony Marro to lift starter Eric Kotin after 102 pitches. Will Savage didn’t present much relief, promptly walking Martinez on four pitches.

That brought designated hitter James Friel to the plate. A transfer from Regis, Friel was making his Ivy League debut after missing two weeks with a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. Friel wasn’t supposed to start, but when Franco was a no-go, he convinced Roventini to write him into the lineup. He rewarded the decision by singling up the middle to cut the deficit to 4-3.

“I told him it’s time to get that big hit,” Roventini recalled. “It’s time to earn your keep and he did.”

Third baseman Joe Calabrese followed with a well-struck opposite field single, first baseman Richie Carbone drove in Martinez with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to left field and Hernandez added to the barrage with a frozen rope to center.

“We’ve fought from behind before and we find ways to come from behind,” Franco said.

It wasn’t a particularly sharp performance by any means by Poly Prep (3-0). Calabrese was thrown out at the plate in the first, depriving right fielder Faton Bauta of a bases loaded opportunity. Martinez was thrown out at third trying to steal, ruining another golden opportunity in the third. Right-hander Chesney Ratliff was solid on the hill, allowing three earned runs on six hits and five strikeouts in 5 2/3. But he was let down in the sixth by Martinez’s throwing error that let Fieldston (2-1) score two runs. Sam Gilbert earned the win in relief.

The loose frame woke up the Blue Devils from their slumber, Franco said. It had little to do with the streak — Poly Prep said it doesn’t think about it in games — but a refuse-to-lose mentality this group developed last year. There was the comeback against Trinity, several other one-run victories, and a victory over Horace Mann after falling behind 12-2.

“We have 26 guys out there and they all have fight in them,” Roventini said. “We’ve been down before and that helps. We don’t lose faith.”

The streak does hold plenty of significance, particularly to seniors like Carbone and Franco, who have been a part of each victory. It is even on the minds of newcomers likes Friel.

“I’ve heard about it for three years, we have 30 games in a row, 40 games in a row,” Friel said. “It means a lot to everybody. It speaks well of the program, speaks well about our team.”

Said Franco: “To have a streak like this is awesome.”

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