Dan Frake's rise to his starring role as the ace of the Shawnee pitching staff began in an odd place: the bottom of the depth chart as an infielder for the Renegades' freshman team.
From third-string second baseman as a ninth grader to so-so sophomore pitcher for the junior varsity to solid but unspectacular reliever for the varsity as a junior, Frake made slow but steady progress in the course of his career.
But his senior season has been something special.
"Unbelievable story," Shawnee catcher Colin Wetterau said of Frake's unlikely emergence as the Renegades' go-to guy on the mound.
Frake continued to work his magic in Monday's South Jersey Group 4 playoff opener at Washington Township.
The senior righthander worked 4 2/3 strong innings as the ninth-seeded Renegades beat the eighth-seeded Minutemen, 6-2, on a sunny, warm afternoon.
Frake combined with junior lefthander Dan Balzan to contain the host team and send Shawnee (15-7) into Thursday's second-round game with top-seeded Eastern.
Eastern beat ACIT, 12-2.
"We were just joking the other day about how Dan was a second baseman and look at him now," Shawnee coach Brian Anderson said. "It's really unbelievable."
Wetterau was 2-for-4, Nate Liedtka rapped an RBI double, and Cole Fleming delivered a two-out, two-run single in a four-run fourth for Shawnee.
Senior Lorenzo Morello was 2-for-3 with an RBI double and sophomore Christian Kane was 2-for-3 and scored both runs for Washington Township (11-12).
"It's been the story for us recently — we haven't been able to get the big hit," Washington Township coach Bob Kelly said.
Kelly said Frake made the difference for Shawnee. "That's the best pitching performance against us this year, and we've played some pretty good teams," Kelly said. "He was 7-1 coming in, and we saw why."
Frake improved to 8-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. He has more wins than the rest of the Renegades' staff combined.
"It's really just been hard work," said Frake, who plans to continue his career at Salisbury University in Maryland. "I was a third-string second baseman. Even sophomore year I wanted to be in the field, played some outfield, but I really couldn't hit.
"I got to pitch a little at the end of sophomore year, and after that I really focused on getting stronger and devoted myself to becoming a pitcher. I was never that great at it, but I really worked hard to get stronger and try to develop."
Frake was 3-1 last season, throwing 21 innings, mostly in relief. He figured to play a complementary role again this season, but senior pitchers Sean Heine and Brian Hendry went down with injuries, leaving the team without an athlete at the top of the rotation.
Enter the former third-string second baseman.
"Coach [Anderson] said to me at the beginning of the season, 'Dan, this is your year,'" Frake said. "He knew I was a little unproven. But he thought I could do it."
Said Wetterau: "From day one, he's been our guy. He's embraced it."
Frake was in early trouble Monday as Washington Township bunched three hits to take a 1-0 lead. But he escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam without further damage and shut down the Minutemen over the next three-plus innings, retiring 11 of the next 14 batters without a hit.
"They put some pressure on him early and he fought through it, which was impressive," Anderson said.
Frake said the game marked his first time on the mound in the state tournament and he was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
"I was hungry," Frake said. "I knew my teammates had my back. I love going out there and pitching for them."
Shawnee 000 400 2 – 6 7 1
Washington Twp. 100 000 1 – 2 6 2
WP: Dan Frake. LP: Ryan Farley.