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Federal out to make highlights at Little League regional

August 01, 2008|By TIM KOELBLE

ESPN won't have to go far to possibly catch some nightly web gems or home run highlights.

They will be happening in its own back yard, beginning today with the start of the Little League 11-12 Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn. Federal Little League would like nothing better than have its own highlight reel of successes.

Federal trades its local name and dons the state colors to become known as "Maryland," after capturing the state title and the regional berth on July 25.

Federal makes its debut Saturday at 2 p.m. against Delaware to open pool play in the six-team field. After four games, the four teams with the best pool records advance to the semifinals on Aug. 8, followed by the finals on Aug. 11 with a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., at stake.

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"We talked as a team Tuesday and these kids are very grounded," said manager Bill Abeles. "We've worked hard as coaches to keep them focused on the little things ... the defense, timely hitting ... the things that will lead to victories most of the time."

Some players and their families arrived in Bristol Wednesday, while the remainder hit the scene Thursday. All the players were ready for a tour of the ESPN studios this morning before the opening game between Delaware and Washington, D.C., at 11. A tournament-opening banquet is tonight.

"It was pretty exciting winning the state and pretty exciting going to the region and to tour ESPN," said Zane Schreiber, who kicked off the state tournament with three home runs and 11 RBIs in a 30-0 win over Southern Maryland.

The ingredients for success in Bristol aren't any different than they were at the state tournament when Federal became the first Hagerstown-area team to win the title since American in 1990.

"It's coming back from a high to get them to focus," said Abeles. "If we just spend our time doing what we have done, we'll be fine because of our defense. We put the ball in play, have solid baserunning and make the opponent play defense."

Abeles said he'll pay close attention to the pitching on other teams, which tends to get much tougher along the road.

"We're solid with pitching and I know others are, but right now we just have to see some staff rotations," said Abeles.

Certain to get one of the early nods will be Andrew Yacyk, who picked up two wins at the states.

"It's going to be tough being away from home again but we've just got to stay focused," said Yacyk. "We're going to meet a lot of new people. We just need to keep the bats going like we did at states."

Much like Federal did in the District 1 Tournament, when it had a 50-8 edge over the opposition.

Dalton Jobe, who cranked out a homer in the state championship game, is confident about his team.

"We're going to see tougher pitching at the regionals, but we are a good ball club," Jobe said. "I mean, we are really good. We don't get mad at one another and we pick each other up."

Federal will be at full strength with shortstop Ryan Byard returning after suffering an ankle injury in the state championship game.

"I had some laser treatment and I'm fine and ready," said Byard, who has a pair of postseason home runs. "When I had the injury I was worried I wouldn't get to play again this season, but I had confidence in my teammates."

Federal will be attempting to become the first team from Hagerstown to reach the Little League World Series since National visited Williamsport in 1968.

Abeles, in his first year managing the 11-12 Federal team, gives plenty of credit to assistants Doug Hornbecker and Rich Ross for their work with the team. Ross won't be on the field for the regionals because of the Little League 12-player, two-coach limit.

Notes: Postseason success also brings along a good deal of financial burdens. The Washington County Commissioners presented Federal with a $10,000 gift to offset state tournament expenses, but the credit cards of the players' families will continue to be taxed because of the regionals. "I talked with the Salisbury people that made it here last year to see what they did and get some ideas," said Abeles. "We've been aggressive in fundraising among friends and alums." Anyone interested in contributing to help Federal with its tournament debts, contact Heather Barnhart at 240 291-2772.

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