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PONY team has more to prove

August 09, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

Some folks around Hagerstown PONY League never saw it coming.

"The thought around the league was that the boys didn't have it in them," said Steve Berger, the manager of the Hagerstown PONY All-Star team.

Game by game, this group of 14-year-olds is making its doubters look foolish.

Hagerstown will attempt to prove many more wrong in Washington, Pa., where they will play in the PONY World Series, beginning Sunday. Players and coaches were scheduled to leave Friday evening.

"People didn't think that we'd have enough pitching, but there's more to pitching than just throwing hard," Berger said Wednesday night during a team practice. "We're throwing to spots inside the strike zone -- down and out, up and in."

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Staff ace Aaron Stoner leads the team with a 5-0 record and a 1.82 ERA. As a team, Hagerstown boasts an ERA of 4.35, more than serviceable for its potent offense, which is hitting .370 and averaging more than 10 runs per game. Drew DeShong leads the team in batting at a .538 clip.

"Hitting is our real strength. It's just a matter of staying off the bad pitches and making the strike zone smaller. When you do that, you'll be successful," Berger said. "Early in games, we probably take too many pitches, but we're getting to the pitchers the second and third time at the plate."

That type of resiliency has parlayed into comeback victories and the feeling that they are never out of any game.

A 16-13 come-from-behind win against Chambersburg (Pa.) in the PONY East Zone West Regional Tournament has been the calling card of the team during its run. Hagerstown trailed 12-5 midway through the game before a seven-run sixth inning helped fuel it to victory.

"This team has tremendous heart, as much as any team out there," Berger said. "We can make some mistakes and don't have to worry too much about them because we can come back."

Hagerstown has posted a 12-3 record and earned a berth in the World Series after a 7-3 win against Chesapeake (Va.) in the championship game of the East Zone Tournament last Sunday in Brockton, Mass.

Hagerstown will open the World Series against host Washington on Sunday at 8 p.m.

"We know Washington, Pa., has a quality team and they'll have the crowd," Berger said. "To our advantage, they haven't played elimination tournaments where you lose two and you're done for the rest of the year."

The Hagerstown All-Stars are making their first appearance in the PONY World Series since 2002. That team, also coached by Berger, opened with a win before losing back-to-back games and was eliminated.

This year's team has already set a few goals for the World Series.

"Win more than Steve's other team won," one player said of Berger's 2002 team.

"Win it all," said another.

But for this year's players, nerves aren't the problem. Asked how they're feeling as the first game approaches, Stoner, Deshong, Aaron Dinterman, Jake Bachtell and Chris Kiley responded almost in unison.

"Pumped!"

All five players said this is the highlight of their young sports careers so far.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the World Series," Stoner said. "We can't wait to go."

"It's something that I'll remember for the rest of my life," Dinterman said. "I can tell my kids one day that I made it to the PONY World Series."

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