In sports, being a part of a winner is mostly the product of being in the right spot at the right time. That’s what George Washington pitcher Jariel Cedeno attributes to becoming the first baseball player in the Public School Athletic League’s history to win a championship with two different teams, as he won one with Norman Thomas in 2009 and another this season with George Washington.
However, it doesn’t hurt that he has an uncanny knack for rising to the occasion.
"He really thrives on pressure," George Washington interim coach Nick Carbone said. "It doesn't matter who he's facing, he really likes the pressure."
Cedeno’s road to becoming a two-time champion started two years ago while he was pitching for Norman Thomas. He was a sophomore and was usually behind the two seniors, including eventual Yankee draft pick Mariel Checo, and a junior. He didn’t have a lot of confidence and was having trouble learning to pitch.
"It hurt him because he wanted to be a power pitcher and that’s what they were," Norman Thomas head coach Nerva Jean Pierre said. "So he’d watch them and try to pump up the gun like them. We tried to tell him to pitch within himself and not always worry about trying to throw 90."
Injuries forced him to start a big game against division rival George Washington. He was nervous before the game, but after he threw a complete game, winning 3-2, he emerged as a different pitcher.
"I always say that a young pitcher is like a tea bag, you never know what you are going to get until you put it in boiling water," Cedeno said.
Working on the advice of his coach, Cedeno scaled back his pitches and used more curveballs and changeups instead. Cedeno attributes that game as the one that showed him to be confident in his own abilities and not to try to throw like a pitcher he is incapable of emulating.
"That game helped me a lot," Cedeno said. "It helped me to realize that I didn't need to throw 90 in a game. I just needed to use my head, make my pitches, and force the batter to adjust. That gave me so much confidence as a pitcher."
Two years later he was pitching for, not against, George Washington, as he had been kicked off the Norman Thomas team after a fight, and he still had that confidence that gives him the ability to pitch with no fear, no matter how intense the situation. This time he played a much bigger role en route to his second PSAL championship, taking the role as one of the staff anchors.
"He's a guy I know that I want to get the ball in his hands in big games," Carbone said. "He says 'I gotcha' meaning that he's going to step up and I need to hear him say that. I calm down right away when he tells me that."
Carbone said the semifinal game against Lehman this year was a prime example of that as Cedeno allowed just one unearned run over six innings in a 5-1 victory. During the game, he put quite a few base runners on, but he rose to the occasion to get out of every jam and won the game, sending Washington to the city finals.
"It doesn't surprise me at all that he has won two championships," Carbone said of his 5-7, 195-pound pitcher. "He takes people by surprise because he doesn't look like a prototypical pitcher, but he's really handles the mental aspect of this game well.
"When the game is on the line, it always made me feel better to have the ball in his hands."