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Frankfort baseball seniors change culture, leave legacy

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Frankfort was one swing away. One miscue. One defensive gem by Edgewood's third baseman.

This team wasn't supposed to be the one that could bring the Hot Dogs their first baseball regional championship since 1968.

But here they were, with No. 2 pitcher Casey Henry baffling a lineup that included three future Division I players, including future Indiana Hoosiers Luke Hayden and potential Major League draft prospect Ethan Vecrumba.

The senior right hander got Frankfort out of one jam after another. He got the Hot Dogs into the eighth inning against the second-ranked team in Class 3A when coaches realistically hoped he could give them three or four solid innings. 

Eventually, Frankfort's fighting spirit lost out to Edgewood's talent when Hayden hit a walk-off single in the eighth inning for a 2-1 victory in the regional championship.

"We finished last in the Sagamore Conference three years ago when these (seniors) were sophomores and they were all starting," Frankfort coach Andy Dudley said. "We had a meeting and they all looked at me and said, 'We are going to fix this.'

"We went out and won the conference last year, an absolutely loaded conference. You saw something special."

Edgewood and Frankfort couldn't have looked more different walking onto the field Monday night.

The Mustangs (23-3) with their monstrous power-hitting lefty tandem of Vecrumba and Cooper Thacker in the middle of the order contrasted Frankfort's rag tag bunch that had to mix and match players due to injuries this season and had a freshman infielder converted into a catcher six weeks ago and another freshman who'd never played outfield before this year starting in center. 

The Hot Dogs, though, had grit, a quality established from the team's five seniors: Henry, Christian Lopez, Jose Valdes Sandoval, Roger Angeles and Benito Lopez.

They won the program's third sectional championship in five years. Prior to that, Frankfort hadn't won a sectional title since 1992.

And they almost won a regional to go with it.

Edgewood, with its potent lineup, managed just three hits — Hayden's walk-off single to left field, Vecrumba's infield dribbler and Coleman Sater's leadoff double in the fourth. Prior to the eighth, the Mustangs' lone run came on a play that featured two errors in the second inning on a two-out infield fly ball that allowed Blake Deckard to score from first base.

Many thought Frankfort wouldn't even compete and yet the Hot Dogs had the bases loaded in the top of the eighth when Valdes Sandoval hit a two-out rocket to between shortstop and third base that turned into an inning-ending ground out thanks to a defensive gem.

"We don't have these strong, humongous guys," Henry said. "They have three Division I athletes in that lineup. Look at us. We just scratch and claw for victories. We just come out every day and play our hearts out."

It almost worked.

It probably should have, but baseball can be cruel sometimes and on this day it was to the Hot Dogs.

"It was a tough loss. We can compete with any team out there," Angeles said. "It's the toughness that each player has. We aren't a good looking team, but the hard work we put in pays off."

Afterwards, Dudley took his five seniors into right field. He delivered an individual heartfelt speech to each of them. Then he gave another to the group as a whole.

"We have tough kids at Frankfort," Dudley said. "There's just something about tapping into that. They've taken ownership of the program. It's been kind of an evolution."

Three years before Frankfort won the 2015 sectional, its first in 23 years, Dudley said he started to see a shift in the attitudes of Hot Dog baseball players. 

In this current corp of seniors, though, he saw something unparalleled.

"It's just toughness. You can't teach it," Dudley said. "I don't think these guys have all always been that way. That core group of seniors, they have absolutely made that infectious.

"They are just a tough group of kids. Nothing ever affects them. In baseball, it's hard to do that."

Angeles, Frankfort's senior shortstop who showed off his defensive abilities on numerous occasions Monday night, noted the importance of passing that down to the younger players.

"They've seen what we are capable of," Angeles said.

Five seniors, four of them starters, will never play baseball for Frankfort again. But their impact will be felt for years to come.

"Their legacy is not the wins. It's not the regional final," Dudley said. "Their legacy is that they passed that down. The guys behind them are going to carry that on."

Congratulations to the Hot Dogs on a fine season.

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