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Kings of the Hill in the Morning; Knocked off the Hill at Night

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The Flatbush Falcons Baseball team was busy on Monday (5/15) with two games on the slate.  The Falcons completed pool play with a 17-2 win over host Columbus Torah Academy (Columbus, OH) to advance to the Gold winners bracket.  That semifinal game was played Monday night, and though it was a real pitchers’ duel, the Frisch Cougars (Paramus, NJ) made an early lead stand up, dropping the Falcons, 6-1, and relegating Flatbush to the 3rd Place game Tuesday morning at the Columbus Baseball Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.

Though the schedule said “late shift” for Shacharit and breakfast, the alarm still came early in the minds of some of the Falcon baseballers.  The Flatbush boys joined along with fellow players from Kushner, Ida Crown, MTA and Columbus at the nearby Congregation Torat Emet for tefilot and light fare before returning to the dorms to suit up for the final set of preliminary games at the Columbus Baseball Invitational.

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Flatbush faced off against the host squad on the main diamond behind the Columbus JCC, with a large throung of vocal supporters on hand to cheer on their Lions.  But in a scheduling twist, Columbus was the visiting team on the field, meaning Falcon pitcher Alfred Sutton would climb the hill first.

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Sutton proved he was sharp, pumping in strike after strike after strike.  Before the Lion supporters could even get cofortable in their seats, Sutton set down the leadoff batter on a called third strike, got the number two hitter to fan at strike three then induced a lazy ground ball to second where Freshman infielder Joe Tawil scooped it up and flipped to Simon Masry at First to retire the side.

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Flatbush, playing as the home team, came up to bat, and with one out, the Laniado brothers picked up right where they left off Sunday afternoon.  Sol smacked a triple in the gap in left-centerfield, and Sam drove him home with a solid single past the shortstop to socre the game’s first run.  The Falcons would send up 13 batters in the inning, with Sol collecting another hit (plating two runs in the process) along with Masry who ripped a 2-RBI single as well.  When the dust finally settled, Flatbush hed a commanding 9-0 lead.

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Despite the long lay-off while Flatbush batted, Sutton stayed almost as sharp in inning two as he was in inning one.  Again, he retired two of the three outs via the “K” while the middle out was recorded by Sam Laniado behind the plate who jumped on a batted ball that landed just feet in front of the plate, spining wildly but clearly remaining in play.  Laniado pounced on the ball, then fired a bullet to Masry at first to nail the runner.  Only a “hit by pitch to the second batter of the inning blemished Sutton’s performance.  In the bottom of the inning, Flatbush added a run to its total without the benefit of a hit.  The key play was an RBI sacrifice groundout by Jordan Senior to drive in Morris Betesh to make it a 10-0 game.

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The third inning saw Sutton be more judicious in his outs, with fly balls coralled by Bert Robinson at short and Sol Laniado in center.  He showed he can field his position as well, setting down the final batter of the inning on a bunt attempt that went for naught as it came back to Sutton just in front of the mound.  Coach Elliot Zakay decided that would be all for Sutton on the morning, with the intent of keeping him available to pitch again later in the tournament.  In three full innings of work, Sutton faced one over the minimum, yielding no hits and recording 4 strikeouts.

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In the bottom of the third, pinch-hitter Marty Elmekies led off with a single up the middle, his first hit of the tournament.  Reserve outfielder Ricky Levy followed with a single of his own, and it looked like Flatbush was again in business.  That brought up reserve infielder Solomon Franco.  Franco laid down a most beautiful bunt, placed perfectly so that ther was no play on him.  But as the Falcons set up with bases loaded, the home plate umpire ruled that Franco stepped on home plate after executing his bunt – a violation according to baseball rules – and called him out, sending the runners back to first and second.  The wind was sucked out of the Falcons’ sails.  Betesh managed a two-out RBI single,  but that was all Flatbush would get.  The score stood 11-0 after three full innings of play.

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To start the 4th, Coach Zakay inserted relief pitcher Bert Robinson, shifting him from his position at shortstop, along with a number of other changes to the Falcons defense. Robinson started slow, hitting the first batter he faced.  The next batter hit a grounder to third that bounced out of the fielders glove.  That put two runners on with no outs.  Robinson set down the next batter on strikes, then retired the following batter on a sacrifice grounder to Franco at second, for which the Falcons traded the first Columbus run for the out at first base.  Two walks, that included a wild pitch, let the second run across with two runners on. But Robinson ended the threat with the next batter, and after 3 1/2 innings of play, Columbus had cut the deficit to single digits, 11-2.

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Flatbush came to the plate looking to put the game out of reach, but they started off very slowly.  Three wallks, a fielder’s choice and a strikeout had the bases loaded with two outs.  Then the wheels completely fell off the cart for the Lions pitching.  The next three Falcons drew walks, plating three Flatbush runs.  Then, pinch hitter Victor Allaham smacked a single to left field knocking in a run, and Senior followed with his first hit of the tournament to plate another run.  When Joe Tawil followed with a walk for another RBI, the Columbus coaches had seen enough.  The deficit had grown to 15 runs, and by mercy rule they conceded the game.  Flatbush had won, advancing to the Gold Medal winners bracket, and a 7:00 pm date with fellow top qualifier – and MYHSAL foe – the Frisch Cougars.

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After a restful few hours back at the Capital University dorms, it was time to play game two of the day, with a berth in Tuesday monring’s championship game in the balance.  It would be a familiar team in the opposite dugout. Frisch is a fellow NY Metropolitan area team, and though the two have yet to play this season, the players on both sides are well aware of the talent presented by the opposition. It would clearly be a hard-fought contest.

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There was much optimism on the part of the Falcons, as they knew they were going into battle with their ace on the hill in the person of Kevin Haddad. the same could be said for the Cougars as they, too, were sending their ace up to face the Flatbush hitters.  Adding to the stakes was the fact that this game would count as the two teams’ regular season contest in the MYHSAL.

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With both teams entering as preliminary bracket winners, a coin flip was held to determine home team.  With Sol Laniado on the call, Flatbush won, and was designated the home team for the game.

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That meant Haddad would take the hill first, and he set down the Cougar lead-off hitter with a easy roller to second base, which Victor Allaham easily scooped up and relayed to Simon Masry at first.  After that, the first break in the game went to the Cougars.  Haddad induced a grounder to third. Teddy Beyda fielded it cleanly, but his throw was a bit off line.  It eluded Masry’s stretch, and Frisch had its first baserunner.  A groundout to Al Tawil at short moved the runner to third with two outs.  Needing one more out to escape unscathed, Haddad battled the Cougar clean-up hitter, and the Cougar won, lifting a ball into the outfield for a clean single, driving in the first run of the game.

Flatbush came to bat, looking to get that run back, and more.  It looked like that might just happen, with Al Tawil starting things off with a sharp single up the middle and Sol Laniado continuing to swing a hot stick, drilling a double up the third base line, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and the heart of the Falcon lineup approaching.

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But, the power duo of Sam Laniado and Murray Dweck faltered.  Frisch’s top hurler got ahead of both hitters, and in turn set both down on called third strikes.  Haddad and Allaham each followed, with both exhibiting the requisite patience at the plate, and with consecutive walks, forced in the tying run.  The rally ended right there, though, as Masry also went down looking at a third strike to end the Falcon threat.

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The second inning saw both pitchers set down the opposing batters in similar fashion, each seeing four batters and each recording two of the requisite three outs via strikeout. It looked as if a real pitchers’ duel was in the works.

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The top of the third saw Frisch take advantage of a leadoff walk.  And as they so often do, though the next three batters each made out, that lead runner edid come around to score, giving Frisch back its one-run cushion.  That brought back up the meat of the Flatbush order.  This time, Sam Laniado and Dweck again had identical results at the plate, but it was much more positive – though somewhat painful – for the two Falcons.  Each was, in turn, plunked by the Frisch ace, and the Falcons again had an ining start off with two runners on and nobody out.

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Haddad, unfortunately, did not help himself as he could not get the ball out of the infield, poppoing up to first and being called out by virtue of the infield fly rule. That set up the turning point of the game.  Allaham hit a grounder to short, and Laniado, having advanced to third on a stolen base, took off for home.  It was a close play at the plate, and to most in attendance, it looked as though while the ball beat him to the plate, he has successfully gotten under the tag.  The home plate umpire saw it otherwise, claiming that Laniado never reached the plate, calling him out at home.  The curious aspect to the call is that by rule, the catcher cannot block the plate until he has the ball in hand.  Frisch’s backstop was clearly in place in front of the plate before the ball reached home, impeding Laniado’s route to the base.  Instead of the game being tied and Flatbush having first and third with one out, there were now two.  Though Masry next walked to load the bases, Beyda followed with a grounder to third, and the fielder stepped on the third base bag, forcing Allaham and ending the Falcon threat.  Flatbush had the Frisch ace on the ropes, and let him up.  It changed the course of the contest.

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Though neither team scored in the fourth, Flatbush fell further behind in the 5th, as Frisch followed a leadoff single with a fantastic bunt up the first baseline.  Haddad was on it quickly, but his momentum carried him past the runner, leaving him no direct line to Masry at first.  He tried to get the ball there anyway. It was unsuccessful.  The ball sailed into right field, and the two runners advanced on 2nd and 3rd on the throwing error.  Two consecutive sacrifice flies plated both runners, and the Cougars now enjoyed a 3-run cushion.

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With the 4-1 lead, and having escaped danger twice, the Frisch pitcher was emboldened, and began throwing with more confidence – and precision. He made quick work of the Falcon batters in the final three innings of play, facing the minimum three batters in each one, recording 5 of the final 9 outs via strikeout, and three of the other four by infield pop ups or ground balls. Meanwhile, Frisch had added two more insurance runs in the seventh to put the game out of reach.  The Columbus dream was over for the Falcons, with the Cougars advancing to Tuesday morning’s championship game on the wings of the 6-1 victory.

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It was not the result Flatbush had hoped for, but the night was not over. The boys returned to the dorm where they enjoyed a late night BBQ courtesy of Coaches Zakay and Kennedy (who worked the courtyard grill provided by the Valley Torah, of California), dining alongside friends old and new from coast to coast.  Then, they capped off the night with recreationally competitive games in the lobby. It was a good way to ease the pain of the loss and set a new tone for tomorrow’s final playoff game.

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NEST NOTES:  By the end of the final preliminary round game, the victory over host school Columbus Torah Academy, every player on the Flatbush roster had played in, and contributed to, the wins in each of the two games played to that point.

The loss in the Gold Bracket semi-final set up a 3rd Place consolation game between Flatbush and the Ida Crown Jewish Academy Aces (Chicago, IL).  Ida Crown lost their semi-final to Valley Torah (Valley Village, CA) when the Wolfpack won in walkoff fashion breaking a 2-2 tie in the 7th inning.  The consolation game is set for 11:30 am at the Columbus JCC, Field #2.

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