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'Federal Four' lead PONY 14s

Yacyk, Schreiber, Byard, Jobe bring Little League World Series experience

July 29, 2010|By BOB PARASILITI

Call it the "gray area."

Andrew Yacyk hasn't quite gotten used to it yet.

And yet, Hagerstown PONY League expects nothing less.

It's playing baseball on the championship level -- in this case, playing to win the four-team, double-elimination East Zone tournament and an automatic berth to the PONY World Series beginning Aug. 6 in Washington, Pa.

The Hagerstown 14 team opens play on Friday at 5 p.m. against the North Region champion in Woonsocket, R.I.

"This is kind of hard to get used to," Yacyk said. "It is playing with new kids, new environment and against new teams. It's still a matter of going out and doing the right things."

Yacyk is used to being in this spotlight. He and three of his PONY teammates -- Dalton Jobe, Zane Schreiber and Ryan Byard -- have played on the national level in 2008 as members of the Federal 11-12 All-Stars team that played in the Little League World Series. Yacyk just finished playing in the state championship game with North Hagerstown as the Hubs won the Class 2A title.

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It all adds to the reputation that Hagerstown PONY League strives for.

"The experience (the Federal Four) has helps us a lot," said Hagerstown manager Mark Koontz. "They are basically our leaders and they tell the kids what to expect because they have been there before."

So far, it has worked well for Hagerstown. The 14 All-Stars have an 8-1 record through the first two qualifying tournaments. They have combined the experience and familiarity with basic fundamental baseball to climb one step away from the ultimate tournament.

"Doing this feels the same as the other time," said Schreiber. "Most of these players I have grown up with and have either played with them or against them before. I think every one of us knows how to handle adversity, but we might have a little edge on them. You just can't panic."

"We are pulling together and playing as a team," Koontz said. "We emphasize doing things the right way. We have been getting the pitching and timely hitting. We don't have a stud pitcher. We have been using two or three a game so the other teams don't get used to them."

Koontz said only J.R. Rhinehart has pitched a complete game in each tournament, while John Britton has been a bit of a good luck charm.

"J.R. has been our workhorse," Koontz said. "John has pitched the first game of both tournaments for us. I don't know if he will start for us in this one."

The "pitching by committee" approach has worked for Hagerstown, primarily because of its defense.

"For the most part, we are a defensive team. We are strong up the middle," Koontz said. "We are good on the right side of the field because of the way teams hit."

Shortstop Derek Herbert, second baseman Byard and center fielder Tyler Walling anchor the middle of the defense, while Dylan Stouffer plays right and Yacyk is at first.

"This has been great fun," Yacyk said. "We have had fun winning, but we have fun playing the game. We just try to keep everyone up. The one thing about baseball is, if you make a mistake, you come back and play again the next day."

That fits perfectly with Hagerstown PONY's game plan -- play one game a day in the three-day tournament.

"We expect to go up there and win three games. That's the bottom line," Koontz said. "They get along with each other and they readily do what we expect of them. We believe that this team has what it takes."

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