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All-stars from Hagerstown take center stage tonight

August 11, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

BRISTOL, Conn. -- It doesn't get much bigger than tonight.

A national television audience. Thousands of people back home cheering them on. A Little League World Series berth at stake.

The Federal Little League All-Stars have reached one of baseball's brightest stages. Now the Maryland state champions want to shine on it, as they face Pennsylvania champion Devon Strafford Little League for the Mid-Atlantic Regional title at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

"I'll tell them to try to ignore the media and ignore the trucks, although we've had a week of it so I think they're kind of used to it at this point," Federal manager Bill Abeles Jr. said. "I want them to be a little bit nervous, it's not normal if you're not nervous, but we're looking forward to the ballgame."

Federal (13-0, overall, 5-0 in regional play) is one of 16 teams in the United States to reach a regional final. Now it wants to be one of eight to advance to Williamsport, Pa.

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Federal has already defeated Pennsylvania (16-3, 3-2) once, 7-4 in pool play six days ago. Abeles knows beating the Pennsylvania champs a second time will not be easy.

Pennsylvania has seven hitters batting at or better than .400 -- Andrew Born (.474, five home runs), Max Dolente (.438), Stephen Born (.429), Thomas Richter, Austin Shirley, Riley Pritchett and Alec Gagne (all four are at .400). The team has scored 43 runs in five games.

"They can put the ball in play," Abeles said. "They're very solid with the bat and very solid defensively. They're going to make us earn it."

That said, Pennsylvania hasn't faced Federal ace Andrew Yacyk. The 5-foot-11 left-hander has not allowed a hit in 7 1/3 innings in regional play while striking out 14. He no-hit Delaware in Federal's first pool-play game.

"I'll be interested to see how they perform against a southpaw," Abeles said. "He's mentally tough. He'll be ready to bat and ready to throw hard. We'll hope to get some strikes out of him, and whatever will be, will be."

Pennsylvania's pitching staff has an ERA of 7.56 in regional play, which would seem to set up perfectly for Federal's powerful offense, which has hit 17 home runs in five games in Bristol and 41 in 13 games overall.

There's nowhere for a pitcher to hide against Federal's attack. Yacyk (.583, five homers) has received most of the attention, but Crosse Barvinchack (.571), Dalton Jobe (.500, three homers), Ryan Kinter (.400), Zane Schreiber (.385, three homers), Josh Moats (.375) and Ryan Byard (.353, four homers) have all performed well in regional play.

Federal used a fast start -- two home runs in a five-run first inning -- to overwhelm New Jersey in Friday's semifinals. Abeles is hoping for a similar start tonight.

"That is one of our mini-goals," Abeles said. "They'll bat first as the visitors and we'll try to get them up and out of there in the first inning and then we'll go at them and see if we can put some runs on the board first and win the first inning."

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