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PONY All-Stars headed back to World Series

August 16, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Steve Berger is either the ultimate planner or he can predict the future.

"I work at the prison, and I put in for vacation for this week a year ago just for this experience," Berger said.

For 12 months, Berger has had his bags packed to manage Hagerstown All-Stars in the PONY League World Series in Washington, Pa. With determination and patience, Hagerstown is taking Berger on his dream vacation.

Hagerstown returns to PONY's final eight for the second time in three years on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. against Port Neches, Texas.

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"Not a lot of people expected us to get out of Hagerstown," Berger said. "I don't know if they didn't think we had the right chemistry or what, but we used that as the rallying call the whole season."

Hagerstown snapped out of an early funk in the sectional tournament - the first of the three it needed to win to reach the World Series - and has been nearly unstoppable on the march to Washington. It signifies what could be a new era in Hagerstown PONY League as all the players and coaches will be in the Series for the first time.

"We know it's going to be tough ... there's only eight teams left in the world right now," Berger said. "If we go in there and play our game, we expect to win. We are going to be aggressive. We don't want to wait for the other team. We want to make them make a mistake by pushing the envelope."

Hagerstown relied on pitching and defense to get by early, but hit its offensive stride during the East Zone Tournament, scoring more than 40 runs in three games.

"They all had to be patient," Berger said. "The turning point was when we faced Hagerstown B in the finals of the sectional tournament. They started to listen and not get themselves out. They were swinging at bad pitches. Now they are going deeper in the count and waiting for good pitches."

One of the main cogs for Hagerstown is Aerik Taylor, who is the team's top pitcher and leading hitter. Taylor, who will start against Texas, is only 2-0 but is carrying a 0.82 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 25 innings of work. He's hitting .556 with three home runs and 16 RBI.

"I've been throwing good, but the team has been supporting me with a lot of hits and runs," Taylor said. "It's easier to pitch when you get runs. I've always wanted to go out (to Washington), but I never thought I'd get the chance."

Scott Keeney will start the second game for Hagerstown on Tuesday. He is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 15 innings with 24 strikeouts. Robert Snowden will pitch Hagerstown's third game.

Offensively, leadoff hitter Jeremiah Mills is hitting. .462, followed by Keeney at .348 and Matt Murray, with three homers and a .407 average.

"This should be fun to play the Asian teams and the teams from all over," said Murray, who played for North Hagerstown in the spring. "We'll get to see how good we are against them. I'd like to win, but I just want to play as well as we can."

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