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Federal Little League saves best for last

August 20, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

View Federal's final game at the Little League World Series.

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Long home runs. Spectacular defense. Fantastic pitching.

The Federal Little League 11-12 All-Stars' final game at the Little League World Series was one to remember.

Even though Federal failed to advance to the United States semifinals in a tiebreaker, the team will leave with a 2-1 record after defeating previously unbeaten Lake Charles, La., 6-4 on Tuesday night at Lamade Stadium.

"I tried to do a little pregame speech. I had the kids out by the bronze statue of (Howard J.) Lamade, and I said about five words before I choked up a little bit, so I had them touch the statue," Federal manager Bill Abeles said. "I hope what the kids remember are not the wins and losses, but the opportunity to play on this field, because it's the Yankee Stadium of Little League baseball."

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With or without words, the pregame gathering worked. Federal saved its best game for last, with two defensive plays sure to make highlight reels and three straight home runs in the third inning that brought fans to their feet in thunderous applause and sparked all kinds of emotions in the players' parents.

Mark Grunberg set the tone by robbing Louisiana's leadoff hitter Gunner Leger of a hit by racing in from deep center field to make a diving catch in the shallow right-field gap for the game's first out.

"It was so awesome," Mark's father, Pete Grunberg, said. "It makes me so proud. I was just speechless. They knew they weren't going to go through (to the semifinals), but they weren't going to give up and they put on a show for everybody in Hagerstown."

Grunberg's single led to offensive fireworks in the third inning. Ryan Byard followed with a two-run home run to left center for the game's first two runs.

"The last game (against Washington) was really hard for him, making the last out," Ryan's mother, Kendra Byard, said. "Seeing him regroup and doing that for his teammates was great, because that's really what he's all about, helping the team.

"It's just fantastic that they got to finish this Little League World Series experience doing what they do, which is hit the crap out of the ball and pick each other up."

Andrew Yacyk - who allowed just one hit while striking out eight in five innings - followed Byard's blast with a louder and longer one which landed well up the hill beyond the wall to center. The gargantuan shot gave Federal a 3-0 lead.

"I'm just happy for the team," Andrew's father, Mark Yacyk, said. "They came up here and went 2-1, and even though they didn't move on, they can hold their heads high. They represented Hagerstown so well. I'm just extremely proud of the players, the coaches and especially the people of Hagerstown for coming here and supporting us."

Zane Schreiber capped off the third-inning fireworks with his own homer, to left center, to make the score 4-0. The three home run hitters each singled in the fourth inning, resulting in Federal's final two runs.

Ryan Byard had the game's other defensive gem, running from his shortstop spot into shallow left field and diving away from home plate to snare Bryce Jordan's soft line drive.

"I was a little surprised," Byard said. "I didn't think I was going to catch it, I just jumped for the cameras. But then it went in the glove."

Louisiana rallied for four runs in the sixth inning off Josh Barron, but Barron kept his composure well enough to finish the inning and end Federal's World Series experience on a positive note.

"They're great, great kids, and we as parents are just happy they took us along for the ride," Kendra Byard said.


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