In most instances when a team bows in a championship game it rarely utters the words, “Happy to be here.”
But you could absolutely understand Freehold High School coach Jon Block and his team for taking that stance following Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at hands of Cranford in the NJSIAA Group III final at the Ken Frank Baseball Stadium at Toms River High School South.
After all, when a school has been around as long as Freehold has, 125 years according to Block, and never, ever, ever, has had a sniff of what it was shooting for Saturday well, yes, there has to be a sense of pride and accomplishment in making it there for the first time.
“I’m happy to be here,” Block said. “We’re proud to compete today. We did something that no school in Freehold has ever done. Hopefully we’ll get back here again. I just hope it doesn’t take another 125 years.”
Freehold’s one-two- junior pitching punch of lefties Jake Yanez (7-4), Saturday’s starter, and Mike Bolton (6-2) had helped it unleash a run of 14 wins in 18 games prior to Saturday.
But, then it ran into Cranford.
“They’re the Toms River South of Union County,” said Block before the game.
Atop its lineup card Cranford listed 33 different championship teams including its 1997 and 2010 Group III championships.
Freehold? Well, not exactly in that company.
Freehold’s unprecedented visit to the final even caught the Toms River South public address announcer off-guard.
First, he called the Colonials the “Patriots.” Then, after briefly correcting himself, he came back with the “Colonels.”
Ok. Sort of understandable considering the Freehold NJSIAA baseball unfamiliarity factor.
“I give all the credit in the world to that team,” said Block glancing towards the Cranford dugout. “They’re a seasoned team. They’ve been here before. They know what it is. Maybe that was the difference. They played nearly flawless baseball.”
Yanez, who pitched well enough to win most days, appeared very much in the “Happy to be here,” mode.
“It’s surreal (playing for a state championship),” Yanez said. “At the beginning of the year, you look at the sheets and you say, ‘hmmmm, let’s see how people rank us this year. Do they think we’re going to be good.’
“No one expected us to be here throughout the whole season. It’s amazing that we got here.”
This isn’t to say Freehold was entirerly ecstatic over the outcome. As Cranford posed with its trophy for championship pictures, surrounded by reporters and cameras, the Freehold team and coaches knelt alone in silence near second base.
But, With Yanez and Bolton returning in 2013 the outlook for next spring is bright.
And even though Freehold didn’t win Saturday, no one could tell the Colonials they weren’t winners.
“We did it for the seniors, we got here,” Yanez said.
And yes, they were happy about it.