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Federal's Yacyk makes pitch for LLWS

August 11, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Andrew Yacyk may not know this, but according to his father Mark, the tall left-hander who will take the mound for Federal Little League in tonight's Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game has been preparing for this moment since before he was out of diapers.

"Andrew's always been attracted to sports," Mark Yacyk said. "When he was 2, he'd have a ball in each hand. If we went to the store and he saw one of those big bins with all the balls in it, we'd have to avoid it because he'd scream and want every ball.

"When he was younger, I'd come home from work, it'd be late in the evening and I'd try to cut the grass, but then I'd hear Andrew come out on the deck with his glove, a bat and a ball, and he'd say, 'Can you pitch to me and hit to me?' I'd say, 'I'm trying to mow the grass,' but then I'd feel bad and throw to him. This would happen every night -- it would be three or four days before the grass got cut."

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Andrew Yacyk and the rest of the Federal All-Stars will play the biggest game of their lives on the brightest of stages with a national television audience as ESPN2 will broadcast the regional final against Pennsylvania state champion Devon Strafford Little League tonight at 8 p.m. The winner will advance to an even brighter stage, the Little League World Series.

Federal's first game at the regional tournament turned Yacyk into a star. Facing Delaware champion Middletown, he pitched a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts and hit three home runs in a 12-0 victory.

"It was a really good jump-start for me and the team, to know we could play against other state champions and perform the way we have been," Yacyk said.

"We knew if he was on and it was the right day, he could throw a no-hitter and hit three out," Federal manager Bill Abeles Jr. said. "That was a career day, although he's had games that were close to that."

Yacyk is hitting .583 with five homers and has pitched 7 1/3 hitless innings with 14 strikeouts in regional play.

"I thought I was going to do well here," he said. "I didn't play real well at states. I thought this would be my time to help my team."

Abeles has seen Yacyk's success coming for a long time.

"I've coached him the last five years and I have seen him blossom," Abeles said. "When he was eight, I had a solid group of 12-year-olds, but he was my starting first baseman at 8. I think he hit somewhere around .300 and he was scared of nothing.

"Throughout the years, I was committed to turning him into a better pitcher. The last two years of higher-level play in districts and states has helped him dramatically."

The 5-foot-11 Yacyk relies mostly on his fastball, although he's capable of mixing in a breaking pitch.

"He's a southpaw and he has enough pace that the ball tails a little bit and fools hitters," Abeles said. "I call the pitches and I'm a big believer in off-speed pitches, and he's only shaken me off once."

Abeles has had the opportunity to use Yacyk on the mound more in regional play, but aside from a 20-pitch relief stint Wednesday against New Jersey champion Bordentown in pool play, Abeles elected to keep Yacyk fresh and save him for this game.

"I feel really good that they have confidence in me to pitch me in the championship game," Yacyk said. "I'm going to have to stay focused and throw strikes."

"Things have worked out well and we've got exactly what we strategized about," Abeles said.

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