Thursday, August 31, 2006

Agassi Outlasts Baghdatis In Five Set Classic, Career Survives One More Night

We've seen this movie script before. Maybe that's how Andre Agassi likes it. After coming back to beat Andrei Pavel in a four set three and a half hour epic Monday, the two-time 36 year-old U.S. Open champion upset eighth seeded Marcos Baghdatis in an even better five set encore 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 before over 23,000 screaming fans at Ashe Stadium Thursday night. The retiring Agassi lived for another night.

In an unpredictable match which also lasted three hours and forty eight minutes, Agassi prevailed over the 21 year-old Baghdatis, who was a runner-up at the Australian Open and a semifinalist at Wimbledon earlier this year.

A couple of days after receiving a cortisone shot just so he could walk out onto the court without limping, Agassi continued to defy logic by playing the electric brand of tennis that's made him such a fan favorite.

Slugging it out from the baseline with his opponent who was 15 years younger, the eight-time slam winner got the better of the points early on. After each player held serve for three all in the first set, it was Agassi that got the first break of the match in the seventh game. He was able to hold twice more and took the set when Baghdatis netted a shot leaving the 21-year Open veteran to pump his fist.

The second set was virtually identical. Both players once again held for three apiece but when Baghdatis served for 4-3, a funny thing happened as Agassi once again pounced to break the Cypriot. After each player held for 5-4, he served out the set to own the first two.

But Baghdatis wasn't ready to go home early. Instead, he fought back hard in the third set to reclaim the momentum. When an Agassi backhand missed just wide, he finally had broken. Serving for it at 5-3 would prove to be tougher than it looked. After he setup three set points, Agassi saved each to force a Deuce before Baghdatis served one of his 23 aces to reach his fourth set point. When another Agassi groundstroke narrowly missed, the Cypriot emphatically shouted and pumped his fist to his corner. He finally had life.

But if he thought he had the momentum, Agassi quickly erased it with consecutive breaks to jump out to a two break 4-0 lead. Ironically, in his first round win over Pavel, Agassi fought back from the same deficit to comeback and take a crucial third set tiebreak. This time, Baghdatis turned the tables on his older foe and mounted one of the best comebacks by breaking him three times in four service games to miraculously fight back and square the match at two sets apiece.

Playing more aggressively and mixing an array of drop shots with depth groundstrokes, the Cypriot took four straight games before Agassi held for 5-4. After leveling it at five, he connected with a backhand winner smack on the line to suddenly surge ahead 6-5. When he served out the set, the fiery Baghdatis pointed to his heart and looked at his corner.

At the beginning of the final set, the Ashe Stadium crowd which earlier did the wave in the second set during a Baghdatis service game which drew a smile this time went into a "Let's Go Andre" chant.

But when their hero dropped serve in the opening game of the fifth set and slowly walked to his chair, it looked like it very well could be the final chapter of his storybook career.

"Would I have been disappointed if I had lost? Sure," Agassi admitted later to the AP. "But at the same time, how can you be disappointed when it's all sort of surreal?"

However, in a set which had more twists and turns in it than a rollercoaster, Baghdatis who earlier had injured his wrist began to cramp and needed to be treated by a trainer before the second game. A few minutes after they returned on court, Agassi immediately broke his cramping opponent to get back on serve. When Baghdatis lunged for a half volley and netted it, it was one all and the popular American pumped his fist and looked at his box.

Even with both players looking weary, each courageously held serve until a wild ninth game which featured eight deuces, four break points and an even more hurting Baghdatis. With the match even two sets and four all, the tiring Cypriot suddenly pulled up during a point. Already treated for a cramp earlier in the set, he couldn't be seen until the remarkable game concluded.

Continuing to stretch it out before returning serve, he showed tremendous heart by setting up a couple of break points with clean return winners. But everytime it looked like the injured player would somehow break to get within a game of serving it out, Agassi did just enough to save all four break chances and finally escaped the lengthy game when Baghdatis committed one of his 86 unforced errors. By comparison, Agassi made just 47 for the entire match. While he made a ton more errors, Baghdatis also finished with 49 more winners than Agassi- 83-34.

Still in pain, somehow with his back to the wall, Baghdatis managed to hold for five all and stay alive. When he hit a clean forehand winner during an extended point on the full run, he screamed in delight much to the pro-Agassi crowd's dismay as some even booed the player who wouldn't give up.

"I just wanted to fight," Baghdatis told USA Network's John McEnroe in a postmatch interview afterwards. "I wanted to stay on the court. I'll do anything to win."

After Agassi held in more conventional fashion for 6-5, he finally reached match point on Baghdatis' serve. When Baghdatis sent a backhand five feet long, the hard fought victory was finally his in what had become another memorable match they won't soon forget at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Just as Agassi and James Blake had done after a similar five set epic last year, the two competitors warmly embraced at the net before a thunderous ovation.

But just as he had done last year, it was the elder Agassi who had won the battle of attrition and took in another fitting tribute from over 23,000 still standing and cheering at almost 1 AM.

"Tonight has been another example of moments you're not guaranteed," he appropriately admitted to McEnroe after Baghdatis had earlier wished him luck the rest of the way.

How right he was. For one more day, he had survived once more. Now he'll next "face a B. Becker from Germany," McEnroe jokingly remarked in the third round with a possible Round of 16 showdown with just turned 24 year-old American Andy Roddick awaiting. No. Not that Becker. It's qualifier Benjamin Becker who yesterday advanced by knocking out Sebastien Grosjean (30) in straight sets 7-6 (3), 6-1, 6-2.

For one more day at least, Agassi has another match Saturday night. Will it continue to produce a similar result? Just wait and see.

While the latest Agassi triumph highlighted Day Four on the men's side, second seeded Rafael Nadal also advanced in four sets over Luis Horna 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Other seeded winners included Tommy Robredo (6), David Ferrer (11), Lleyton Hewitt (15), Novak Djokovic (20), Fernando Verdasco (22) and Richard Gasquet (25).

Meanwhile, 27th seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils fell in four sets to Wesley Moodie 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Hingis Upset: On the women's side, former 1997 Open champ Martin Hingis' return to New York wasn't pleasant.

Making her first appearance in four years and a day removed from a tough three set opening round win over Peng Shuai, Hingis struggled to find the range in a straight sets loss to Virginie Razzano 6-2, 6-4 to sustain her quickest Open exit ever.

Unable to hold serve and outslugged from the baseline, Hingis never was able to recover from a tough first set which saw her hold serve just once. When Razzano jumped out to a doublebreak 4-0 second set lead, the writing was on the wall. Though Hingis fought back to pull within 4-5, Razzano served it out the second time to eliminate the popular former Swiss world No. 1.

"I think after yesterday I didn't have much more to give," Hingis admitted. "Yesterday, I was able to dig in deep, and today, you know, [Razzano] had a better answer.

"I mean, we have to say definitely she played a great match. She was very solid from both sides. There wasn't much I could do sometimes."

While it wasn't a good day for Hingis, 2005 runner-up Mary Pierce (13) moved into Round 3 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Eva Birnerova.

Also advancing to a third round showdown with unseeded American Serena Williams was 16th seeded Ana Ivanovic. Ironically, the Serbian fought back similarly to how Williams did against Daniela Hantuchova and posted an identical 7-5, 6-3 comeback victory over Aiko Nakamura. Like Williams, Ivanovic crawled out of a break hole in which her opponent served for the first set before taking control. It should setup an intriguing third round match in two days.

Unseeded Serena Advances Into Third Round

She might be unseeded but Serena Williams served notice in an impressive second round win over 17th seeded Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 6-3 at Ashe Stadium Thursday.

Having entered just her fourth tournament of the season due to a barrage of injuries, the two-time former U.S. Open champion looked in solid form avenging an Australian Open straight set loss in the same round to Hantuchova back in January.

But early on, Hantuchova jumped up an early break with some splendid hitting from the baseline to go ahead 3-0. Serving well and taking control of points early, it looked like she would take the first set from Williams. But trailing 2-5, the 24 year-old American raised her level and took five unanswered games to comeback and claim the set.

"Was I down 5-2? I didn't even know it," she told USA Network's Michael Barkann during a postmatch interview. "I just started focusing. She was doing everything right."

After holding for 3-5 to stay alive, she took advantage of a loose ninth game by her opponent. In it, Hantuchova made four unforced errors, including two missed drop shots and two costly double faults which put the set back on serve.

Given new life, Williams quickly held for five apiece. Starting to play more aggressively, she setup two break points in the 11th game. After Hantuchova saved one with a forehand winner, the 23 year-old Slovak served another untimely double to give Serena her second consecutive break for 6-5.

With another steady hold, the seven-time slam winner finished off the set in style with a forehand winner down the line.

Continuing to play well, Williams went up an early break in the second before cruising to the straight set triumph with her fourth break of the match when a Hantuchova shot sailed long.

The road probably won't get any easier as she'll most likely play 16th seeded Ana Ivanovic next. Ivanovic was a set up on Japan's Aiko Nakamura in the second round.

In other second round women's action, third seeded Russian Maria Sharapova advanced easily with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Emelie Loit. She'll next take on countrywoman Elena Likhovtseva (32), who moved into Round 3 with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Nicole Pratt.

Meanwhile, 10th seeded American Lindsay Davenport cruised over Jelena Kostanic 6-0, 6-0.

"Some days, everything just seems to be working," she expressed to the AP afterwards. "These days don't happen that often, so you have to be happy when they come your way."

The former 1998 Open champ will next face 22nd seeded Katarina Srebotnik after she eliminated Ekaterina Bychkova in three sets 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Also moving into the third round was former 2003 winner Justine Henin-Hardenne. The second seeded Belgian ousted American teenager Vania King 6-1, 6-2 to setup a match against Japan's Ai Sugiyama (28), who was a three set victor over Tathiana Garbin 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2.

Former 2004 runner-up Elena Dementieva setup an all Russian third round with Vera Zvonareva. The fourth seed eliminated Emma Laine 6-4, 6-0 while Zvonareva (33) defeated American Jill Craybas 6-3, 7-5.

Top seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo also was victorious over American Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4, 6-3. The match was much closer than the score would indicate. A highly entertaining affair, both players traded heavy groundstrokes from the baseline during some extended rallies. The difference was that rating Australian and Wimbledon champion Mauresmo saved 11 of 12 break points.

It was enough to carry her into a third round match-up against Mara Santangelo, who earlier got the better of Sybille Bammer 6-3, 6-1.

Other Round 2 seeded women's winners included Nadia Petrova (5), Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Patty Schnyder (7), Nicole Vaidisova (9), Dinara Safina (12), Francesca Schiavone (14), Jelena Jankovic (19), Maria Kirilenko (20), Shahar Peer (21), Anna Chakvetadze (23), Li Na (24), Marion Bartoli (26) and Tatiana Golovin (27).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Agassi Extends Career With Comeback Win Over Pavel

Andre Agassi wasn't ready to call it a career. In his final grand slam event, the two-time U.S. Open champion showed nerves of steel in a hard fought four set comeback victory over Andrei Pavel 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (6), 6-2 before an electric capacity Ashe Stadium crowd Monday night.

In fact, the 23,736 who attended became the largest audience to ever attend an Open night session which also featured a special ceremony honoring tennis legend Billie Jean King in the renaming of the National Tennis Center for her. The prematch ceremony featured guest speakers John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert.

In a well played first round match which saw each player exchange heavy groundstrokes from the baseline during long rallies, it took three and a half hours just for the 36 year-old Agassi to move into an even tougher second round match with eighth seeded Marcos Baghdatis. The Australian Open runner-up was a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (7), 6-3 winner over German Alexander Waske.

"You want it to be everything you hope it is," Agassi told the AP. "It was perfect."

After he dropped the opening set tiebreak and was deep into another seesaw breaker in the second, it looked like it would be anything but. But the eight-time slam winner fought through to post a 10-8 tiebreak, squaring the match to the crowd's delight after Pavel pushed a backhand long. A giddy Agassi pumped his fist and then hopped and skipped back to the court for an unpredictable third set.

Just as quickly as he regained the momentum, suddenly the veteran who was appearing in his 21st successive Open had lost it and fell behind two breaks to a rejuvenated Pavel. With the set seeming over after Pavel held for 4-0, Agassi changed rackets before getting a crucial service hold to get on the board.

Shortly after, a cramping Pavel was visited by a trainer. Suddenly with not as much zip on his serve and not moving as fluidly, he let Agassi back in the set. In a role reversal, the Las Vegas native broke twice and held to reel off five consecutive games and pull within one of going up a set. But his fiesty opponent wouldn't fold. Instead, the 32 year-old who hadn't played a hard court match since March held twice to stay alive and force a third straight tiebreak which proved pivotal.

In it, Agassi seemed in control up a minibreak. When he reached 6-3 to setup three set points, it looked like he would roll. But instead, Pavel held his serve twice and then struck a perfect backhand return winner down the line on an Agassi second serve to fight off all three and level it at six.

But Agassi took his next service point to setup a fourth set point. Similar to how he closed out James Blake in that epic five set quarterfinal last year, the gutsy American went for broke on a Pavel second serve, ripping a perfect inside out forehand winner crosscourt out of his opponent's reach to capture the set.

"It was a really tough match," Pavel admitted. "In the end, I was tired. I run left and right, and he did the same. He's still one of the fittest guy on tour. He's amazing."

That seemed to take the fight out of his winded opponent. The fourth set would prove to be easier for Agassi, who cruised to a doublebreak victory and then took his traditional four bows to an excited crowd which gave him the kind of overwhelming support which was expected.

"He's the man right now," Pavel said. "I wish him well. I hope he can go all the way. He deserves it."

"I want to be here real bad, for the whole two weeks," Agassi told USA's John McEnroe during a postmatch interview to a thunderous ovation. "I really want to leave my best stuff on the court...I'm very proud of this day, and I'm glad it gets to happen again."

While Agassi was victorious, earlier on Day One, ninth seeded American Andy Roddick continued to impress under the tutelage of Connors with an easy straight sets win over Florent Serra 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. The former 2003 Open winner mixed in some different serves and even served and volleyed effectively en route to erasing the memories of last year's first round disappointment against Gilles Muller.

"I'm really, really confident right now," Roddick said. "It felt clean."

Other seeded men's winners included Tommy Robredo (6), David Ferrer (11), Novak Djokovic (20), Richard Gasquet (25),

In one big upset, third seeded Croat Ivan Ljubicic fell in straight sets to Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 3-6, 3-6.

Also eliminated on Day One were Jarkko Nieminen (13), Dominik Hrbaty (19), Jose Acasuso (24) and Juan Ignacio Chela (31).

On the women's side, seeded winners who moved into Round 2 included American Lindsay Davenport. The 10th seed posted a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Czech Klara Zakopalova.

Also into the second round were Justin Henin-Hardenne (2), Elena Dementieva (4), Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Patty Schnyder (7), Nicole Vaidisova (9), Francesca Schiavone (14), Jelena Jankovic (19), Maria Kirilenko (20), Shahar Peer (21), Katarina Srebotnik (22), Marion Bartoli (26), Ai Sugiyama (28), Jie Zheng (29) and Vera Zvonareva (33).

Anna-Lena Groenefeld (15) fell to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai in three sets 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Baby Bombers Edge Cyclones, Close In On Division

STATEN ISLAND, NY -A couple of hits were enough for Staten Island (40-24) to move a step closer to clinching the McNamara Division. That's precisely what happened in their 1-0 shutout of Brooklyn (34-30) before an energized crowd of 4,641 at Richmond County Ball Park Monday night.

The victory pulled them six clear of the Cyclones, who slipped to third place a half game behind Aberdeen. It also reduced their magic number for clinching the division to six.

"About as tight as it gets. Quick game," skipper Gaylen Pitts remarked of the well pitched game which lasted only two hours and 18 minutes. "We don't get too many of those...A good game to watch. A good game for TV."

In a classic pitcher's duel, the Baby Bombers got the only two hits they needed in the home seventh to make a hardluck loser out of Nelson Portillo (3-4). Portillo no-hit them for the first 6.2 innings but the Cyclones couldn't get him a lead thanks in large part to Staten Island's George Kontos. The righthander matched zeroes with Portillo, tossing 6.2 innings of scoreless ball while allowing five hits and fanning six to get a no decision.

"You know, it's real tough," Kontos said. "Everyone's putting up zeroes. I'm throwing well. He's throwing well. The whole year, I've been lucky enough to have them give me some run support. They've picked me up all year. So I tried to battle and keep us in the game."

"Definitely this was a big game after last game where things got a little rowdy and things kind of got out of hand. This was a definitely a good game to set the tone. This is not a joke anymore."

Having had no success at all against Portillo, S.I. finally broke through when first baseman Kyle Larsen singled to left with two outs to knock out the Brooklyn starter. With Portillo gone, Josh De La Torre came on to try to get the last out of the inning. Instead, the Bombers caught a little break when Colin Curtis' double was misplayed by Brooklyn right fielder Jesus Gamero which scored Larsen all the way from first for the game's only run.

"That was a tough one," Larsen said. "[Portillo] pitched a great game. My hat's off to that guy. Six and two thirds without giving up a hit. That's tremendous. To come up with the win is exciting."

"Whenever George pitches, it seems like we're always in the game," he added. "He's done a tremendous job this year. Definitely when we're not hitting, it motivates you. You know you have a shot to win."

The one run held up thanks to splendid relief work from the combo of Justin Keadle (1.1 scoreless) and Nick Peterson, who worked around a two out walk in the ninth to close it out for his 14th save.

Notes: Baby Bombers finish up the regular season series with the Cyclones later tonight at Key Span Park as part of a four-game road trip with a three-game stop at Lowell. They've won the last four against Brooklyn and lead the series 9-4. ... Staten Island improved to a league best 21-10 at home. They return to St. George Saturday to host Oneonta as part of a six-game homestand which concludes the regular season.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

U.S. Open Set To Kick Off Monday, Federer Aims For Three-Peat While Sharapova Goes For First

In a year where Andre Agassi will finally call it a career, the storylines for the 2006 U.S. Open couldn't be more different for the two fields.

While Agassi will try to give New Yorkers one last thrill, men's world number one Roger Federer is aiming for a three-peat. The recently turned 25 year-old Swiss Maestro has continued to be the most dominant player in the game- having captured two more slams (Australian, Wimbledon) and fallen to Rafael Nadal at the French Open final.

That's now eight for his career which is starting to rival career slam holder Pete Sampras. If Federer can capture his third U.S. Open in a row, he'll be only five short of Sampras' record 14. The last man to win three straight in New York was Ivan Lendl (1985-87).

Standing in his path could be a familiar rival in Andy Roddick. After struggling for much of the season, the ninth seeded American has hit his stride by making one final this summer and winning in Cincinnati recently to capture his first title of the year. Coached by his brother John, Roddick has also been working with former U.S. Open favorite Jimmy Connors. There has been a marked improvement in his game.

"They've only been working together this summer, but I've already seen huge strides in Andy's game," CBS analyst Patrick McEnroe recently said.

"His first tournament in Indianapolis he made the final there, lost in a great match to James Blake, and then Andy was injured for a couple of weeks and came back in Cincinnati and after a first round scare he played as well as I've seen him play in a while. He seems to be playing more aggressively. He's stepping into the court a lot more, trying to return a little bigger off second serves, come into net a lot more. His mindset is very positive, and I think Jimmy has had a huge impact there, sort of positive reinforcement."

If Roddick could go on and win here, it would be similar to his run three years ago which resulted in his only slam with a straight set conquest over Juan Carlos Ferrero.

While familiar names are expected to compete for the men's title, the women's field will be without defending champion Kim Clijsters. The second ranked Belgian suffered a wrist injury at a tournament in Montreal which forced her to withdraw.

With her absent from the field, it leaves a wide open draw with a potential new winner about to emerge. The question becomes who will step up? Maria Sharapova certainly could add a second major if she plays to form. Her draw isn't too tough and it could be a perfect opportunity for the 19 year-old Russian to capture her first slam since a surprising 2004 Wimbledon at the age of 17.

"Sharapova, on form," CBS analyst Mary Joe Fernandez pointed out. "Has played really, really well. Looking at her draw, she's on the top half. I expect her to get through that."

Maybe Czech riser Nicole Vaidisova comes to forefront and makes a push for her first slam. Former finalist Elena Dementieva is always a threat on the hard court but it all depends on if her serve holds up.

Can Australian Open and Wimbledon winner Amelie Mauresmo continue her breakthrough year by adding a third slam as the top seed? If so, she could face comebacking Serena Williams in the Round of 16.

"Serena has played nine matches in her comeback, been in two semis," Fernandez noted. "I like the way she was playing. I think she was still a little rusty, a little match-shy, but I think she was playing, serving well, and she's gonna be a threat."

"She actually looked a lot fitter than the last time I saw her which was in Australia. She was running a lot of balls down. She was actually pretty patient, which was a good sign for me...She's playing a lot better than when we saw her in Australia."

Former winner Lindsay Davenport will also be attempting a comeback but might not come in 100 percent. So it's unclear how far the 10th seed can go.

Or does a former champion from the past a la Svetlana Kuznetsova, Justine Henin-Hardenne or Martina Hingis rise up to add another slam?

That remains to be seen.

Let's pick the final four for each field and see who we like to capture the trophies:

Women's Final Four

(1) Amelie Mauresmo vs (3) Maria Sharapova
(9) Nicole Vaidisova vs (2) Justine Henin-Hardenne

Final: Sharapova vs Henin-Hardenne

2006 Winner: Sharapova

Men's Final Four

(1) Roger Federer vs (17) Andy Murray
(9) Andy Roddick vs (2) Rafael Nadal

Final: Federer vs Roddick

2006 Winner: Federer

Forever A Rebel, Agassi To Finish Storybook Career At Ashe

It's been much anticipated. Since he announced prior to Wimbledon that the U.S. Open would be his final Grand Slam tournament, Andre Agassi has hardly been able to stay on the court in what amounts to his final summer on the ATP Tour before finally calling it a career here in New York.

It's why despite the aching back which has made the last year of the 36 year-old American's brilliant career tough, the two-time Open champion will get overwhelming support from an emotional crowd when the two week tournament of this year's final slam gets underway Monday.

Always a fan favorite, the charasmatic Agassi has never missed an Open in the 21 years he's entered- making it the only slam he's never pulled out of. From the American Rebel Image is Everything days with the long blonde hair, beard and baggy pants to the clean cut and shaven player who has tranformed over the years into a workman-like player who never gives away a point, New Yorkers have been blessed to watch this tennis great reinvent himself and capture two titles and finish runner-up four times including last year to repeat champion Roger Federer.

In 1994, he became the first unseeded player in 28 years to win the championship over Michael Stich- marking an incredible comeback from wrist surgery and a run which eventually got him to No. 1 in the world and took his rivalry with Pete Sampras to new heights.

"Andre announcing his retirement is truly the end of an era," Sampras said recently. "He was one of the best players I competed against and in turn made me a better player. His longevity and desire to compete at the highest level have been remarkable. He has brought a huge amount to our sport and will be missed."

Five years later, he would capture his second Open when he bested American Todd Martin in five sets. It also was the year he went on to win the French and became only the fifth man to ever win a career Grand Slam. That same year, he also reached the Wimbledon final but fell to archrival Sampras. He would finish the season ranked Number 1.

While he's been a great player on the court who could produce go for broke winners and thrill capacity crowds with his hustle, part of what's made him special is how he's been able to connect with those who come out to see him. Who could forget at the beginning of his special run to last year's final when he admitted to the audience afterwards he was nervous because they took time out of their busy schedules to see him? That kind of understanding has made the Las Vegas native showman very popular. That's why this final tour of duty is going to be something to behold no matter how long it lasts.

"I don't think there's anyone that's meant more in the last 20 years from how [Agassi] grew up as sort of a kid that didn't really- you know, obviously had the great talent in the game, but didn't really have an understanding of the history of the sport and the traditions and what it means," CBS tennis studio analyst Patrick McEnroe said during last week's conference call.

"To then basically be, you know, every time he says something, we all hang on the edge of our seats to hear what he has to say. He's really become the ultimate spokesperson for the game. The players respect him like nobody else. I think everyone in the game does."

That kind of recognition is what's personified Agassi's career. It's why analysts who cover the sport as well as his opponents have the ultimate respect for what he's accomplished.

"We're losing a legend," James Blake admitted of the player who's won 60 career titles and delivered over 800 wins including a memorable quarterfinal comeback last year from two sets down against the current fifth seed.

"Andre transcended tennis. We all owe him a great debt of gratitude for what he's done for the sport. He's left his mark on tennis, but he's also done so much through his foundation and starting a school in Las Vegas that's very inspirational."

For Agassi, it will be tough to duplicate last year's success. If he gets through first round opponent Andrei Pavel, the husband of Steffi Graf will have to deal with fiery Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis. The eighth seeded Baghdatis was a surprise Australian Open runner-up and also made the Wimbledon semifinals. With powerful groundstrokes similar to Agassi and plenty of speed, he could prove to be a difficult foe for the American legend if it comes to fruition.

"Baghdatis plays a very similar style to Andre, and that's why I think it's a difficult matchup," McEnroe concluded. "He's very good off both sides. He can take the ball early and go up the line pretty easily. I think Andre likes to play someone at this stage that can't make him move that quickly, and Baghdatis has the ability to take the ball early and make Andre change direction quickly. So I think if Baghdatis is on and healthy and fit, I think that's a very tough match for Andre to win right now."

No matter what, he's impacted so many.

"[Agassi] revolutionized the game," CBS analyst Mary Joe Fernandez noted. "He has brought so much exposure. I just think he's a great person...He's given so much to the sport. For someone that good to be away from the sport, to have the injuries, to start from the bottom, I mean, he started the challenger level to work his way back and really dedicate himself all over again, is so impressive. He's a great role model for everyone of every age."

"You know, watching the video, you get the goosebumps. I can't imagine anyone who's not going to watch every single point of his matches at the US Open. I cannot wait to watch him."

Neither can anyone else.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

IronBirds Trip Up Baby Bombers, Halt Home Streak At Six

STATEN ISLAND, NY -It had to end sometime. The Ironbirds came into St. George and halted the Baby Bombers' six-game home winning streak- defeating them by a score of 7-2 before 2,203 at Richmond County Ball Park Saturday night.

It was the Bombers' first home defeat since a 9-6 loss against Lowell back on August 6. Despite the defeat, Staten Island (39-34) still leads second place Brooklyn by five games in the McNamara Division. The Cyclones fell at home to the Renegades 3-1. Combined with the Birds' victory, the Cyclones lead Aberdeen (34-30) by just half a game.

Unable to put together a big inning against Ironbird starter Fernando De Nabal (2-3), the Bombers' best chance came in the fourth when they loaded the bases with one out for Jon Poterson but the DH grounded into a 4-6-3 twin killing to end the threat. De Nabal tossed five scoreless innings before giving way to the pen.

With the game still scoreless, Aberdeen struck first with two runs in the fifth off Staten Island starter Grant Duff (0-1). In his first start since coming over from Charleston, the southpaw who kept the Birds off the scoreboard the first four frames ran out of gas. After putting the first two runners on via a walk and double, he left the game after fanning Danny Figueroa.

Interim manager Carlos Chantres opted to bring in Edgar Omana. But on a full count to Pedro Florimon Jr., the lefty reliever uncorked a wild pitch which scored the first run. A batter later, a Miguel Abreu sac fly put the Birds in front by two.

A two out seventh inning rally by the Birds allowed them to double their lead. After retiring the first two batters, reliever Michael Dunn walked the bases loaded before allowing a two-run single to Kieron Pope.

Lately, the Baby Bombers have made a habit of coming back late. They tried to again with two of their own in the home seventh. With runners on second and third, Seth Fortenberry reached on Pope's error allowing both Jose Gil and Poterson to cross home suddenly cutting it to 4-2. But Mitch Hilligoss grounded out to end it.

After giving up two unearned runs, the Birds responded by taking advantage of three S.I. miscues to push across three unearned of their own and go up by five runs. With two runners on thanks to a Wilmer Pino error and a walk, Florimon Jr. singled in one. After a Fortenberry throwing error moved Florimon to third, he scored on an Abreu RBI fielder's choice to make it 6-2. A Chris Vinyard sac fly concluded the ugly inning.

The margin held up to give Aberdeen the first of the two-game series which concludes Sunday afternoon at St. George.

Notes: The game lasted three hours and 15 minutes. Each team combined for five errors and five unearned runs. ... Duff went 4.1 innings giving up two earned on two hits with four walks and three K's. ... Of the Bombers' six hits, only shortstop Chris Kunda finished with more than one hit going 2-for-4 in a losing effort. ... After concluding the series with Aberdeen, Staten Island will host Brooklyn Monday for the first of a home-and-home. It's the final two times they will meet during the regular season. Bombers' Magic Number to clinch the division is eight.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Baby Bombers Come From Behind To Beat Renegades

STATEN ISLAND, NY - Last year, the Staten Island Yankees made a habit of coming back late to win games en route to their third NY-Penn League championship. Lately, that's become the trend for this year's squad which sits atop the McNamara Division after another late rally to post a 5-4 victory over the Renegades (25-37) before 2,967 at Richmond County Ball Park Friday night.

"Another close one. Yesterday the same thing," Jon Poterson said after finishing 1-for-3 with an RBI ground rule double in the second which tied the score. "We know when we're down, we know we got a shot no matter what."

A night removed from another late comeback win at Hudson Valley, the Baby Bombers (39-23) pulled another magic rabit out of their hat. After the Renegades pushed three across in the top of the seventh to untie the game, the Bombers immediately responded with a two out rally to tie it.

After the first two batters struck out, left fielder Brian Aragon reached on Hudson Valley shortstop Jairo de la Rosa's error. After Chris Kunda singled, Ben Rulon came in for Jeremy Hellickson and walked Wilkins De La Rosa to load the bases to set the stage for NY-Penn League leading hitter Wilmer Pino. The second baseman delivered with a bases clearing double to tie it. Rulon finally K'd Mitch Hilligoss looking to end the inning.

With the game knotted, pitching coach Carlos Chantres opted to bring in closer Nick Peterson to pitch the eighth. He worked in and out of trouble stranding three before his teammates scratched out the go-ahead run on a Aragon sac fly which scored Colin Curtis.

"In that situation, you just want to put the ball in play," Aragon said. "It was a great win. We had a good crowd and a tie ballgame late in the game, it was good enough to wrap it up."

"The boys battled out there all night long," Chantres said. "We never give up. You got to keep going and swing the bat. [Pino] came up with a clutch hit. That was big for us right there. Tied the game up."

"We never give up. That's what we teach these guys. We play till the last out."

Given a one-run lead, Peterson (4-3) made it stand up by impressively striking out the side to give Staten Island its sixth consecutive home win.

Notes: Chantres managed the team in place of Gaylen Pitts, who was serving a suspension stemming from a recent incident at Brooklyn in which the already ejected skipper cameback out to argue over a third S.I. Yankee batter being plunked in their blowout win. ... In his first start for Staten Island, Angel Reyes went 4.2 innings on one run (unearned), three hits while fanning six. ... The game took three hours and 11 minutes to play. After it was completed, Fireworks were on display and then a special concert was performed as part of Merenge Night. ... Baby Bombers host Aberdeen later tonight.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hilligoss Enjoying Life In New York, Rivalry With Cyclones

STATEN ISLAND, NY -Mitch Hilligoss continued to impress. The third baseman delivered a walkoff hit with the bases loaded to give the Baby Bombers a 2-1 extra inning victory over their Verrazano rivals the Cyclones Sunday at St. George.

His clutch hit staked the Bombers to a perfect four-game homestand and increased their McNamara Division lead to three games over Brooklyn.

"The rivalry is great," an excited Hilligoss expressed after his second walkoff hit against the Cyclones in 12 days. "The fans love it. It's a big league atmosphere when we play them. It's what I expected. New York Yankees and Mets games or Yankees and Red Sox games- you know the same calibre playing minor league baseball."

One of six Staten Island players to represent them at last Tuesday's All Star Game in Aberdeen, the former University of Purdue star has been one of the ballclub's best players this season. Selected in the sixth round of this past June's MLB Draft, the 21 year-old Windsor Illinois native has made a smooth transition from college to the pros.

After starting the year at shortstop, he's adjusted well to playing at the hot corner. While the versatile Hilligoss has played steady D all season, he's also swung a good bat for the Baby Bombers. Entering tonight's game at Brooklyn, he was hitting .318 with a home run and 31 RBI's. A solid line drive lefty hitter who can drive the ball into the gaps, he takes advantage of what pitchers give him.

Also very disciplined, he's drawn 22 walks to hike his on-base percentage to a team high .390. Also possessing good speed, he's a threat to run and has stolen eight bases while only being caught once.

That kind of overall game is what's helped him have success this summer. He's also enjoyed his first season under first-year skipper Gaylen Pitts.

"[Pitts] is a great guy," the offensive star of the AL's 4-1 recent win over the NL in the NY-Penn League All Star Game said. "He just tells us to go out and have fun and play baseball hard. The way it should be and we've responded and I think we've played well for him."

While he's enjoyed his time on the field, Hilligoss has also had fun off it when he and teammates have gotten a chance to check out New York.

"Actually, we go to Manhattan on our off days," he said. "Sometimes like tonight, we may go when we have time. It's a great place to visit. I don't know how much you want to live here with the people and stuff cause I'm from a small town but I love Manhattan. It's a great place."

While some of his teammates prefer another area, one spot in particular stands out for the first-year player.

"I really like Times Square," he noted. "A lot of the guys like Canal Street because you can get some cheap stuff there but I'm a big fan of Times Square."

If he continues to progress well at the minor league level, maybe one day Hilligoss will get to see a lot more of it in the future.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hilligoss Walks Off Against Cyclones In 10

STATEN ISLAND, NY -Mitch Hilligoss finally made the Cyclones pay. In his first game back after missing the prior two due to a sore lower back from being plunked, the Staten Island third baseman delivered a walkoff hit with the bases loaded in the 10th to lift the first place Baby Bombers (35-22) over Brooklyn (32-25) 2-1 before 4,641 at Richmond County Ball Park Sunday afternoon.

Their fourth consecutive win allowed them to finish perfect on the homestand and pull three games up in the McNamara Division on the suddenly slumping Cyclones, who dropped its fifth in a row.

With the game tied at one, Bomber first baseman Kevin Smith ledoff the 10th with an opposite field single and was sacrificed to second by Chris Kunda. Brooklyn reliever Josh De La Torre (0-1) opted to intentionally walk Wilkins De La Rosa for the second time in three innings. This time, he didn't get a chance to get out of the jam.

Instead, German Marte came in and threw a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position. They then intentionally walked Seth Fortenberry to load the bases for Hilligoss. In a similar situation, he grounded out to short to end the eighth. Hitless in his first four at bats, he came through with a sharp single past shortstop Luis Rivera to give Staten Island it's latest thrilling walkoff victory.

"That situation with two outs is a little different situation. You intentionally walk, eventually it's going to have to kill you," the latest hero pointed out.

"Unbelievable pitching. Soto, Trubee and Hovis were lights out for us and have been. And these are good games because they're in our division. Now we're three games up on these guys and there's a couple of weeks left."

Hilligoss was referring to the tandem of starter Edgar Soto and relievers Luke Trubee and Jonathan Hovis, who combined to allow just one run on three hits while fanning six in the game.

Soto went the first six giving up only one run in the second on a Jeremy Hambrice RBI ground out which scored Jesus Gamero to put the Cyclones up a run.

After Trubee tossed a scoreless seventh, the Baby Bombers took advantage of left fielder Dustin Martin's two-base error which allowed Hilligoss to reach. After a Kyle Larsen ground out to the right side moved him over, Hilligoss scored the tying run on a Colin Curtis sac fly.

The game stayed that way till the 10th.

Notes: Baby Bombers head to PNC Park against Brooklyn for the second game of a home-and-home later tonight to start a four-day road trip with stops in Aberdeen and Hudson Valley before returning home at St. George to host the Renegades this Friday.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fortenberry Adjusting Well To Pro Ball

STATEN ISLAND, NY -One player who has made a positive impact on the first place Baby Bombers this season is left fielder Seth Fortenberry.

One of six Bombers to represent the club at this past Tuesday's All Star Game in Aberdeen, the 22 year-old left fielder has become a steady presence near the top of the order. With plenty of speed which has produced five triples and 10 stolen bases, Fortenberry has mixed in the occasional drag bunt to reach base along with his respectable .287 average, four home runs and 24 RBI's.

Lately, Staten Island skipper Gaylen Pitts has utilized him in either the leadoff or number two role. Something the former Baylor star was accustomed to entering his first season of pro ball.

"In college, I hit two-hole. So I'm really comfortable with two-hole," Fortenberry noted prior to Saturday's game. "I like setting up the game. Kind of like hitting at the top of the order. Get a lot of at bats."

In the Bombers' 4-2 win over Mahoning Valley Saturday night, the Waco Texas native had two hits including an RBI single and a perfect bunt single past the pitcher's mound. Bunting for hits has become a weapon the first-year pro has added to his game.

"I started working on it this past college season," he explained. "I think I had 11, 12 in college and just something I had to add to my repertoire. It's a threat that I can bring. Open up some holes down the line and it's been working well."

In particular, Fortenberry spoke highly of his Baylor experience which helped get him ready for the next level.

"That was great. We're in the Big 12 Conference and that helped a lot preparing us for great competition and great preparation for what it had in store for me. That experience seeing the pitchers in the Big 12 Conference is a lot like seeing what we see not only every starter out there but every pitcher that comes on the mound out there."

The Staten Island starting left fielder credits that kind of experience for his quick adjustment to the NY-Penn League. In particular, he hasn't been fazed by the switch from aluminum bats to wood but did point out one other difference as well.

"A lot of people think the wood bat makes a lot of adjusting," he said. "I used the wood bat this summer and kind of got in a groove with that and gotten used to it. It wasn't quite as big of an adjustment for me. But there's a lot of adjusting as far as pitch selections. That's a big thing at this level."

While he's made a smooth transition, his team finds itself in a tight battle for first in the McNamara Division with archrival Brooklyn. With a win last night, the Bombers moved two games up on them with a key home-and-home coming up starting later today in St. George.

"We've been battling them for most of the year," Fortenberry pointed out. "They got a great club over there. We're just trying to keep pushing forward. [Pitts] always talks about pushing forward, pushing on. Hopefully, we can put a streak together here and hopefully get a few games up. We got them tomorrow and Monday. We got to try to take care of business and add a few games to that lead."

While it's been a solid first year for him, just being drafted by the Yankees in the 11th round of this past June's MLB Draft was something he'll remember.

"It was exciting. Kind of up in the air when the day comes and it's an exciting day when it comes around," he remarked.

"It's exciting and what can you say- it's the Yankees. I was very pumped about that. Great organization. The best. It was a very exciting time."

Baby Bomber Pitchers Make Four Run Second Stand Up, Sweep Scrappers

STATEN ISLAND, NY -A four run second was good enough for the Baby Bombers to post their third straight victory over the Scrappers (30-27) 4-2 to sweep the series before 2,185 at Richmond County Ball Park Saturday night.

In a game which needed only two hours and 17 minutes to complete on an overcast night, Staten Island (34-22) moved two games up on Brooklyn (rained out) for the division lead entering a key home-and-home starting later today when the Bombers host their Verrazano rivals.

"It was good to get the sweep," center fielder Colin Curtis said after making a diving catch to rob Andrew Lytle of a leadoff hit in the ninth and help closer Nick Peterson get the Scrappers in order for his 12th save.

"Get a couple of games up on Brooklyn. We're gaining some games on them before we face them this weekend which is good for our team."

The offense was supplied in odd fashion during the second. After the first two batters were retired, Staten Island catcher Francisco Cervelli reached on Mahoning Valley shortstop Joshua Rodriguez' errant throw. It opened the door for them to get to losing starter William Delage (1-6).

After Jose Gil singled to put runners on the corners, Chris Kunda walked to load the bases for Wilkins De La Rosa. De La Rosa legged out an infield single to short but wound up with two RBI's because on the throw to first, Gil headed home and was able to sneak his hand around catcher Brent Lacy's tag with a nifty hook slide.

"I was going to avoid the tag no matter what. When I saw that [Lacy] came out for the ball, I went the other way and got my hand in," the DH pointed out after finishing with two hits. In the first S.I. win over Mahoning Valley Friday, Gil also was the hitting star with three hits including a three-run homer.

"I thank God for what's going on with my hitting. I work hard to get to this point."

With runners on the corners still, Seth Fortenberry knocked in the third run with a clean single to right. That's when De La Rosa took advantage of the Scrappers' second mistake. While he was going to third, right fielder Cirillo Cumberbatch overthrew the base which allowed De La Rosa to score Staten Island's fourth unearned run of the frame.

"It's a good feeling to get a sweep. Going in with a little momentum going into the Brooklyn series," Fortenberry said after his big base knock. "It's going to be a big day tomorrow. We got to come out ready to play and try to take the first one from Brooklyn and get ready to go play at their place."

Staked to a four-run lead, S.I. starter Tim Norton pitched six strong innings allowing just an unearned run in the fifth on a wild pitch while fanning eight to pickup his second victory.

"We're playing pretty well," manager Gaylen Pitts noted. "Our starting pitching is what's setting the tone. Our starters like Norton tonight, Conroy the night before and Kontos are giving us innings. Quality innings and if you score a few runs, it helps you win. It makes a difference."

"[Norton] is turning it on. He's had three real good quality starts here the last three starts. He's been more aggressive in the zone and going after guys. He's starting to throw a little slider. Tonight he had a pretty good forkball. He's getting ahead of hitters and being aggressive."

Also supplying solid relief work was Justin Keadle, who gave up just one unearned run in the eighth put went two solid innings striking out two before turning it over to Peterson.

"Keadle did an outstanding job. Came in threw strikes and kept the ball down," Pitts added. "I can't say enough about our bullpen. Our bullpen's been outstanding all year."

Notes: All six runs were unearned due to a combined five errors. Mahoning Valley finished with two while Staten Island had three. ... Third baseman Mitch Hilligoss sat out his second consecutive game with a sore lower back due to being hit there in Friday's win. Tim O'Brien manned the hot corner for the second game in a row and batted third, finishing hitless with a walk. ... Baby Bombers host Cyclones today at 4 PM to conclude the four-game homestand at St. George before heading to Brooklyn for one, Aberdeen for two and Hudson Valley next Thursday.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Staten Island All Stars Enjoy Time In Aberdeen

STATEN ISLAND, NY -It was a particularly pleasant NY-Penn League All Star showing for the Baby Bombers this past Tuesday in Aberdeen.

Six players represented them well in helping the American League defeat the National League 4-1. Francisco Cervelli, Seth Fortenberry, Mitch Hilligoss, Nick Larsen, Nick Peterson and Wilmer Pino took part in the game.

In fact, a few played a pivotal role in the AL's triumph. Hilligoss finished 2-for-2 with an RBI to take home Player of the Game.

"It's a great honor anytime you get that," the delighted Staten Island third baseman said. "Probably a couple of more guys deserved it."

Meanwhile, Peterson worked in and out of trouble for one inning to fan all three. It was good enough to be tabbed Most Outstanding Pitcher.

"It was neat winning that along with the game playing in that kind of atmosphere," noted the prominent S.I. closer. "Guys you play with. Guys you play against. It was special."

Peterson also spoke of what the game symbolized.

"It's for the fans. "It's about going out there having a good time...It's more relaxed. You don't really worry about winning the game. Just go out there and have a good time...That's why you have Home Run Derby."

While they were honored, teammate Pino also chipped in with an RBI ground out. The Baby Bomber second baseman has been red hot of late and continued to swing the bat well with a hit in Friday's 1-0 win over Mahoning Valley to put his average at .348.

"He's been an outstanding player all around," Peterson pointed out. "Really pretty much most of the season. He's turned it on lately and has been hitting the ball well. Outstanding in the field. Just all around super player."

Fortenberry came away very impressed with the All Star experience.

"This was my first All Star Game," the Bomber left fielder said. "It was everything I expected it to be. They did a great job by hosting there."

In particular, he was very excited to meet baseball legend and future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken.

"It's very exciting to meet Cal Ripken and hanging out with him for a little bit. He's a great guy and it was a lot of fun getting to be with him. That's something I'll cherish."

Another aspect which was a lot of fun for Fortenberry was to have so many teammates there sharing the experience.

"It was exciting. Hats off to all those guys. They played great. Larsen did good in the Home Run Derby. Hilligoss got player of the game and Peterson walked away with pitcher of the Game."

"It's great," added Hilligoss. "Obviously cause you know your team's having a great year. We all got to enjoy it. I wish everyone had the experience."

For Larsen who also represented Staten Island last year, he was impressed with the job they did which included actual jerseys of the big league clubs that drafted them which each player got to keep.

"It was great," the first baseman remarked. "Everything was done top notch like the big leagues. To be able to keep those jerseys is something you'll take with you. Definitely a motivator for the future."

For S.I. catcher Cervelli, the feeling was extra special and one which hit home.

"They're proud," he said of his family back home in Venezuela. "I play baseball just for them. I play everyday for them."

Of being a part of the festivities, he came away as impressed as everyone else:

"In my short career, it's the best experience. Everything was perfect and like the big leagues...Very good experience. The best experience."

Curtis Walkoff Hit Gives Baby Bombers 1-0 Victory In 10

STATEN ISLAND, NY -For nine innings, they couldn't get much done offensively. None of that mattered when center fielder Colin Curtis delivered a walkoff 10th inning double to lift the Baby Bombers (33-22) to a 1-0 victory over Mahoning Valley (30-26) before 3,250 at Richmond County Ball Park Friday night.

"That's exciting," Curtis said. "We hadn't really had anything going all game. We got something going that inning and came out with the win in front. A lot of excitement for the fans who stuck around."

After only mustering two hits the first nine innings against the Scrappers, Staten Island left fielder Seth Fortenberry got the 10th started with a drag bunt single. After Tim O'Brien sacrificed him into scoring position, Mahoning Valley reliever Matthew Meyer (2-2) opted to intentionally walk Kyle Larsen to get to Curtis.

Hitless in his first seven at bats in the series, he made them pay by working the count full and serving an opposite field double which easily scored Fortenberry for the game's only run to make a winner out of reliever Nick Peterson (3-3) after the closer tossed two scoreless frames.

"I kind of came up in that situation- went deep in the count and fouled off some pitches and [Meyer] threw me a pitch that he had thrown earlier in the at bat...I think getting deep into the count and seeing a bunch of pitches helped me bring in that last run."

Both starters were in control. S.I.'s Jim Conroy matched zeroes with Erik Stiller for the first six before giving way to the pens. It was in the Scrappers' seventh that they had the best chance to go ahead.

After Conroy put the first two runners on, manager Gaylen Pitts called on Jonathan Hovis to get out of trouble. After striking out the first two batters, he got a little defensive help from Larsen on an infield hit. The first baseman noticed that Jared Goedert came off third too much and started a 3-5-2 putout to nail him at the plate to end the threat. The alert play allowed Hovis to get out of it.

"I got in there with a guy on first and second, nobody out," he said after also working a scoreless eighth before giving way to Peterson.

"I knew I had to get a ground ball. So I went with fastballs, sinkers and got lucky. Got a couple of strikeouts and then got a groundball. Do what you can in that situation to limit the damage and was able to get out of it without giving up a run."

"It was a good game on both sides," Pitts pointed out. "Their pitching allowed one hit in seven innings...When you're home, you get to have the last at bat. It makes it a little easier."

On Fireworks Night, that proved true.

Notes: Conroy went six allowing four hits, walking one and fanning five while counterpart Stiller allowed just one hit and K'd four. ... S.I. second baseman Wilmer Pino continued his hot hitting by going 1-for-3. The All Star is now hitting .348. ... Third baseman Mitch Hilligoss was given the night off to after being plunked in the lower back in Thursday's win. ... Baby Bombers go for the sweep tonight before hosting the second place Cyclones Sunday afternoon to complete the homestand.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gil's Big Night Helps Baby Bombers Blast Scrappers

STATEN ISLAND, NY -Jose Gil's big night helped the Baby Bombers blast the Scrappers (30-25) 9-2 before 2,601 at Richmond County Ball Park Thursday night.

In their return to the field after the All Star break, Gil got the start behind the plate in place of All Star Francisco Cervelli and made the most of it by going 3-for-4 with a home run, three RBI's and two runs scored. The outburst was good enough to move Staten Island (32-22) a half game ahead of the Cyclones for first in the McNamara Division due to Brooklyn's 2-1 loss to Auburn.

"Offensively, yes," Gil remarked about his breakout game. "It was the first time I did that this year. That's my best game here ever."

"I did well in batting practice and I did well in the game."

In their first game back home in nine days, the Bombers got to Mahoning Valley starter David Huff (0-1) right away by pushing across three in the first. After Mitch Hilligoss singled, Seth Fortenberry came around to score the first run when center fielder Steven Douglas booted the ball, allowing Hilligoss to also take second. Consecutive two out runscoring hits by Colin Curtis and Wilmer Pino increased the lead to three.

"I don't know what it was but we were patient and squared up well," Curtis noted after also coming up with a splendid diving catch in center to rob Cirillo Cumberbatch of an extra base hit. "Maybe the couple of days off helped us but you never know. We just kind of came out, had a nice day and did a good job."

They tacked on another run in the second thanks to a Wilkins De La Rosa single up the middle which scored Gil, who ledoff with a base hit. The big blow came in the next frame. With one out and two men on base, the switch hitting Gil crushed relief pitcher Michael Eisenberg's offering over the right field fence to make it 7-0.

"I was just trying to hit the ball," he said after his second dinger of the season came from the left side. "I wasn't looking for that to happen. I just hit it and it went."

"I was glad to see it," skipper Gaylen Pitts pointed out. "That's what competition does. He sees the other guy doing well and he wants to get in the act too. He turned on that one ball. He hit the ball hard tonight and had a good game...That's what winning and competition does for you."

The seven runs were plenty for S.I. starter George Kontos, who improved to 7-2 by tossing five and two-thirds scoreless while fanning eight.

"We put some runs up on the board early. [Kontos] didn't have his best game but he pitched out of trouble," Pitts said. "That's the way you got to pitch when you have a lead."

A Pino sixth inning RBI double plated Kyle Larsen to make it 8-0. Scrappers' left fielder Kelly Edmundson broke up the shutout with a solo homer to left off reliever Luke Trubee in the seventh. Mahoning Valley also got their other run later in the frame before Pino closed out the scoring by delivering his fourth hit of the night- an RBI single to left.

Notes: Gil and Pino combined to go 7-for-9 with three runs scored, a HR and six RBI's (three each). ... Coming off an MVP performance in the All Star game Tuesday in Aberdeen, Hilligoss finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored. The third baseman was plunked in his final at bat in the back and was bandaged up afterwards. ... Every Bomber in the lineup reached base. ... The four-game homestand continues later tonight when Staten Island hosts Mahoning Valley in the second game of a three-game set which concludes Saturday. They then conclude the stand Sunday with a crucial home-and-home against Brooklyn.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Former Red Sox Fan Norton Is A Yankee At Heart For Baby Bombers

STATEN ISLAND, NY -At one time, Tim Norton grew up in Northern Connecticut rooting for the Red Sox along with family and friends. A couple of months removed from being selected by the rival Yankees in the seventh round of the MLB Draft, much has changed for the first-year Staten Island Yankee.

"All my life I lived in Rhode Island and now I live in Mass," he explained after pitching five solid innings allowing just an unearned run along with five strikeouts in a no decision during the Baby Bombers' 2-1 victory over archrival Brooklyn.

"So I've been a Red Sox fan- my family, my boys and the day I was drafted by the Yanks, it all went out the window. I'm totally bought in with the Yanks' organization and it is what it is now. That's the past. Whoever I pitch for, I'm rooting for."

The same can now be said for his family which have converted to Boston's nemesis in support of their favorite pitcher.

"They're all Yankee fans," the 23 year-old said. "They jumped right on and that was that. So family first."

Norton spoke highly of his time spent starring at the University of Connecticut where the former two-team captain led his team to a Big East Championship during his college career along with finishing second all-time on the Huskies K list with 226. He was also All-Big East First team and All-New England First Team this past year.

"I had a great time there," he noted. "A lot of what I know now- not just baseball- is from that program...It was a great time there."

That kind of experience helped him prepare for pro ball not just on the field but off it as well.

"All four years, I was surrounded with great people, great teammates, great coaches and it really helped me settle into myself junior year and senior year. It just worked out. It helped me manage my time. Not just baseball but it helped me grow up a little bit and helped me work on my mechanics and get the right guidance and I had the right people around me."

Despite all those positives which helped him mature as a player, the rookie Bomber starter has noticed a big difference facing hitters at this level.

"I think they have better patience cause they're much more patient," Norton noted.

"One team we played. I think it was Pittsburgh affiliate and they had a kid who hit sixth or seventh and he was hitting three or four in college cause I faced him. They just have hitters that you're used to seeing at the top of the lineup who are now at the bottom of the lineup. So it's more even throughout the whole lineup. You don't get to slack with 7, 8 or 9 any longer that you had in college. They're all good hitters and patient."

So far, Norton's done alright adjusting to the changes with Staten Island. In 10 starts, he's 1-2 with a 3.74 ERA, allowing 43 hits in 43.1 innings while K-ing 48.

The results from outing to outing might not always be there but that's not what he's most concerned with.

"I try not to worry about that too much. If I just do my game and do what I need to do and I should get outs. So if I just execute well, do what I need to do and what I want to do."

One thing Norton's particularly encouraged with is his team's position. After they posted an 8-1 victory at Tri-City to kick off a six-game trip Wednesday, Staten Island improved to 29-20 and tied Brooklyn for first in the McNamara Division.

"We've got some great characters and great guys and I think we're a very promising ballclub. Keep playing ball and hopefully we're in the position at the end of the year to make a run and win."

Peterson Happy With Role In First Season With Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, NY -It doesn't happen too often that a baseball team you like winds up drafting you, helping fulfill a dream. But that's exactly what became reality when the Yankees selected pitcher Nick Peterson in the 12th round at this year's MLB Draft two months ago.

"It was real exciting," the current Staten Island Yankee closer said after tossing two scoreless innings to pickup the win in the Baby Bombers' 10 inning 2-1 victory over the Cyclones Tuesday night.

"I've been looking forward to it for a long time and especially to get drafted by the New York Yankees- probably my favorite team. So it was real exciting. So I was looking forward to just getting in gear and getting up here. Having a blast so far."

The 21 year-old Tampa native got to star back home for the University of Tampa where no matter his role, he enjoyed the experience.

"I did some starting and relieving actually and I enjoyed both," the righthander pointed out. "I did a lot of relieving I think as they wanted to get me geared towards pro ball and they thought that's what I'd do here. So it was a lot of fun pitching right there at home."

In 2006, he started 10 of 15 games he appeared in- going 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA along with two saves while fanning an impressive 81 batters in 56.2 innings.

Peterson has continued to impress in his first pro season with the Baby Bombers. Serving as the team's closer, he's already gotten into 20 games converting 11 of 12 saves to go with a 2-2 record, 1.93 ERA while fanning 33 in just 23.1 innings. Most of his strikeouts have come on a fastball which usually tops out between 93-94 MPH. Combined with it, he'll also mix in a curve to keep hitters off balance, which helps explain why opponents are only batting .190 off him.

"It doesn't really matter to me," he explained of his current role. "Whatever I can do to help the team the most and there's where they need me right now. So that's what I'll do."

Peterson doesn't seem to mind entering close ballgames late with the ball in his hands.

"I love closing. Coming into the game. So there's a lot of pressure and I thrive off that."

It was especially satisfying for the S.I. reliever to come in and shut the door on the Cyclones a couple of weeks after they scored a couple of runs off him in the ninth and tenth to squeak out a win.

"It feels good to get them back and win the ballgame. I knew it was eventually going to come. It was going to happen to me but no big deal," he mentioned of that failed opportunity. "We got them back tonight and it feels good."

One thing he's appreciated is how quickly he and his Baby Bomber teammates have come together this season.

"You know, I don't think I've ever played on a team that jells any better than we do. On and off the field, these guys are great guys. They're a lot of fun and they know when to get serious and work hard and it's a lot of fun playing with them."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hilligoss Walk Off Hit Propels Baby Bombers Over Cyclones In 10 Innings

STATEN ISLAND, NY -It had been a rough night for Mitch Hilligoss but that all changed with one swing of the bat.

After going hitless in four previous plate appearances, the Staten Island third baseman delivered a game winning RBI single off Brooklyn reliever Grady Hinchman which scored Wilkins De La Rosa to propel the Baby Bombers to a 2-1 10th inning victory over first place Brooklyn before 5,231 at Richmond County Ball Park Tuesday night.

"That's great," Hilligoss said. "We haven't been playing the best baseball. We didn't play a flawless game tonight but we made pitches when we had to. We made plays when we had to and we got a few timely hits."

It helped snap a two-game losing streak and allowed Staten Island (28-20) to gain a split of the home-and-home series against the Cyclones (29-19) and pull within a game of first place in the McNamara Division.

"That was a big win for us obviously but the way we battled- if you don't win it, it's going to be a letdown," skipper Gaylen Pitts pointed out. "I thought it was big time that we comeback and win...Keep pace with them and had a good crowd here. There's a lot of excitement. We pitched well and we executed well."

With the game tied an inning earlier, three consecutive two out hits by the Bombers nearly ended it but when Francisco Cervelli rounded third on Chris Kunda's sharp single to left, he was nailed at home on a perfect relay throw from Brooklyn's Dustin Martin to catcher Daniel Cummins (7-2 putout) to force extras.

After reliever Nick Peterson (2-2) tossed a second scoreless inning by working around two walks to strand runners at second and third, the Bombers got another chance to end it and cashed in.

"It feels good to get them back and win the ballgame," Peterson pointed out after he and his teammates turned the tables on the Cyclones, who a couple of weeks prior had victimized the closer in a similar spot. "We got them back tonight. It feels good."

De La Rosa ledoff the 10th by working a walk on a full count. Seth Fortenberry's successful sac bunt which moved him into scoring position nearly turned into an infield hit but Rip Warren's throw to Jeremy Hambrice just nipped him.

Warren (1-2) was pulled in favor of Hinchman to face Hilligoss. Having cooled off recently, this time he waited perfectly on a curveball and lined it into right to win the game in dramatic fashion and touch off the Bombers' second celebration in four nights. Their last win Saturday over Lowell was also of the walkoff variety off the bat of Fortenberry.

"It was great," Tuesday's latest hero added. "I just kept saying, 'Stick with it.' And that's what I kept trying to stay back. I didn't do a very good job of it but sometimes you get the breaks."

"It's big. Mitch came through big- hit the ball real well. We're fortunate to have him," noted Peterson.

The Bombers got a solid outing from starter Tim Norton, who went the first five allowing just an unearned run along with three hits and fanning five. Brooklyn's only run came in the fifth. With two out, Luis Rivera was safe when Kunda dropped the ball while applying the tag which would've ended the inning. He came around to score on a Joe Holden RBI single.

"I would've liked to go a couple of more innings and give the pen a little rest but my pitch count was up," Norton said. "I felt pretty good. My fastball was there. Walked a couple of people but overall I thought I pitched pretty well."

Down one, the Bombers responded by manufacturing a run before Brooklyn starter Todd Privett recorded an out. After Wilmer Pino doubled to left, he advanced to third and scored the tying run on two wild pitches.

With the game knotted, a key defensive play by Kunda prevented the Cyclones from going back ahead. With Brooklyn threatening with a runner on second and two gone against reliever Jonathan Hovis, Tim Grogan lined a single up the middle which the hustling shortstop got his glove on to prevent it from going to the outfield and then in one turn nailed Mark Wright at home 6-2 to end the threat.

"That was a huge play. You can't blame them for trying to score there, making something happen with the way the pitching was going and the long throw, [Kunda] came up and made it look easy," Hilligoss said.

"They had the go-ahead run on second base and I was just trying to keep the ball on the infield with two outs," Kunda said. "Luckily, [Wright] around third kept going, put his head down and tried to score and I was able to make a good enough throw at the plate and [Cervelli] did a good job snuffing out the run."

"It was a big win. Especially against Brooklyn who was a couple of games up on us right now in the division standings. Huge win to get back at them after getting beat at their place (Monday) night and now we go on the road for six games and we got to do a good job of trying to win as many games as we can. They're not going to give any games away. They're going to be right there till the end and we got to stick with them."

Notes: The Staten Island bullpen tossed five scoreless innings in the win. Luke Trubee, Hovis and Peterson combined to shutdown the Brooklyn bats. "The bullpen has been outstanding all year," Pitts said. "Sometimes, they've been a little bit overworked cause our starters have pitch counts and don't always give us enough innings. It takes its toll but for the most part they've done an outstanding job." ... Of the upcoming six-game road trip which starts with three at Tri-City later tonight and concludes in Jamestown this weekend before the All Star break, Pitts added: "Every game's important and we got a team that we're playing tomorrow that I heard through the grape vine is pretty good. They lead their division. We'll see what happens." ... The Baby Bombers don't return home to St. George until next Thursday when they host Mahoning.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Baby Bombers Rally Falls Short, Drop Debut Series To Massachusetts Rivals

STATEN ISLAND, NY -The Baby Bombers late rally came up short in a 9-6 loss to Lowell (22-23) before 2,466 at Richmond County Ball Park Sunday to drop the rubber match of a three-game set in the debut series against their Massachusetts rivals.

Trailing 9-1 entering their half of the seventh, Staten Island pushed across two to cut it to six. They got even closer with two more to cut it to 9-5 in the eighth when right fielder Wilkins De La Rosa reached on Lowell second baseman Michael Chambers' error which allowed Colin Curtis and Kevin Smith to come around and score. But with two runners on and two out, Lowell's Terry Large got Wilmer Pino to pop out to end the inning.

After reliever Edgar Omana tossed his second consecutive scoreless inning, things got even more interesting in the Bombers' final at bat.

Seth Fortenberry ledoff with a single and advanced to second on right fielder Jeff Vincent's error. Ironically, Vincent was spectacular earlier in the game robbing Curtis and Kyle Larsen of sure hits four innings apart. But now, Staten Island had something cooking and when Fortenberry came into score on a Large wild pitch with one out, suddenly it was a three-run game.

When Larsen singled to center, the Bombers were one man short of the tying run. ut none of that mattered when Large induced Curtis into a game ending 4-6-3 double play to finally salt away the Spinners' second victory in three.

"It was a good win. Anytime you come to Staten Island and play the Yankees- being a Red Sock it's a big win. I mean it's bigger than beating any other team," Vincent said after finishing with three hits, a run scored, an RBI and two defensive gems which took away sure hits. Both were similar with the right fielder covering a lot of territory to make two running catches on the warning track facing the fence. The second was even more spectacular as he dove to rob Larsen of an extra base hit to end the sixth.

"Alan Moss has been working with us on going back on the ball and I just turned around my head, ran as fast as I could and looked up and made the ball and I stuck my glove out and caught it."

After threatening in the first, Lowell stranded runners on second and third with nobody out allowing S.I. starter Francisco Castillo to escape a jam.

But in the second, they jumped in front quickly when first baseman Manny Arambarris turned on Castillo's first offering and deposited it over the left field wall for his first home run of the season. Castillo then lost control of the plate by hitting a batter and walking two more to load the bases with no one out. Despite that, the Spinners managed just one more run on a Paul Smyth RBI fielder's choice. Castillo stranded two more runners by fanning Zach Daeges.

For all Castillo's troubles, he allowed just the two runs in 3.2 innings while striking out six but took the loss to fall to 3-2.

Staten Island cut it to 2-1 in the fourth when third baseman Mitch Hilligoss reached on a Chambers miscue allowing Pino to score from third. Hilligoss was credited with an RBI because Pino would've scored anyway due to Lowell playing the infield back.

Up a run, the Spinners broke the game open with a five-run sixth. After the first three batters reached base, Vincent's RBI single made it 3-1 to knock out reliever Tyler Addison. After Paul Patterson fanned Paul Smyth, Daeges laced a two-run single and Jonathan Still followed with an RBI double to make it 7-1.

"We've been struggling a little bit. We went through a little phase where we weren't couldn't score any runs. So it's nice to get the offense going," Daeges said after driving in two on the day.

"It was a lot closer than it should've been. They only had five hits but we gave up six runs. We made a few mistakes and walked a few guys but we got the win. So that's the most important thing."

In the Spinners' seventh, Chambers crushed a two-run homer to increase the lead to eight, which would prove big before Staten Island rallied to make it much closer.

Notes: Lowell starter Brian Steinocher tossed 4.2 innings without allowing a hit before giving way to Felix Ventura, who recorded a strikeout against the only batter he faced to improve to 3-3. ... Fortenberry's bunt single off Dustin Richardson with one out in the sixth was the Baby Bombers' first hit of the game. ... Before the game, former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice was on hand signing autographs for fans as part of Jim Rice Autograph Day. He also tossed out the third ceremonial pitch to cheers. ... Combined with Brooklyn's win over Tri-City, Staten Island (27-19) fell a game out of first entering a pivotal home-and-home series against the Cyclones the next two nights with it concluding at St. George Tuesday.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fortenberry's Walkoff Hit Lifts Baby Bombers Over Spinners

STATEN ISLAND, NY -Seth Fortenberry's walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Baby Bombers to a 3-2 win over Lowell (21-23) before 3,614 at Richmond County Ball Park Saturday night. Combined with Brooklyn's 1-0 loss to Tri-City which snapped their 12-game win streak, Staten Island (27-18) moved into a first place tie in the McNamara Division.

With the game tied at two and the first two batters retired in order, it looked destined for extra innings. But Wilkins De La Rosa walked and Colin Curtis singled to put runners on the corners. With the winning run 90 feet away and the crowd urging him on, Fortenberry worked the count full against losing pitcher Yulkin German (3-1) before delivering a single in the hole to right which scored De La Rosa to touch off a celebration.

"It was two teams going at it- 2-2 tie ballgame. It came down to the wire...[German] had a great changeup and I was just lucky enough to get a good pitch and poke it through the hole," a pleased Fortenberry said a few minutes after being mobbed by his teammates on the field.

A couple of innings earlier, the Staten Island left fielder came up against German with a chance to put his team ahead with Christopher Kunda on third. But after the Lowell southpaw came in and fanned Curtis swinging, Fortenberry also went down swinging on a nasty changeup to end the threat.

"He had struck me out before that on changeups," Fortenberry pointed out. "He got to 3-2 and I figured he was going to go fastball but he ended up going changeup first pitch but I was able to foul it off and then he cameback with a fastball and I was able to poke it through the hole."

His last inning heroics made a winner out of Jonathan Hovis, who came in and tossed two scoreless frames to improve to 3-1.

The win came less than 24 hours after an ugly 9-7 loss which resulted in a team meeting.

"It was kind of back and forth last night. We gave up some runs that we probably shouldn't have but we bounced back- good to get a good win like this under your belt."

"It was a great win," shortstop Mitch Hilligoss said after finishing 2-for-4 including an RBI ground out in the third which tied the score at one.

"After last night's debacle, tonight was a good win. Fortenberry came up huge. I thought he got one earlier in the game and he missed it. But a ground ball through the hole was just as good."

The Spinners jumped in front early on thanks to a Jonathan Still sac fly in the first which scored Paul Smyth. It was the only run they managed off starter George Kontos, who went the first five allowing a run on five hits and striking out six to get the no decision.

After tying it in the third, Staten Island went ahead on back-to-back one out hits in the sixth. Hilligoss hit an opposite field triple to left and Kyle Larsen drove him in by singling to center past a drawn in infield. It could've been more but Larsen was thrown out trying to score from second on a Wilmer Pino single to left. The 6-5 235 pound first baseman knocked over catcher Luis Castillo but his attempt to jar the ball loose failed.

Lowell would tie the game up in the seventh on a Jeff Vincent sac fly, setting the stage for Fortenberry's walkoff which sent everyone home happy.

Notes: With two hits, Hilligoss raised his average to .350. ... Out of Staten Island's 12 hits, 11 came from five different players who finished with multi-hit nights. Curtis, Fortenberry, Hilligoss, Pino and Kunda combined to go 11-for-22 with two runs and two RBI's. ... Saturday also was Babe Ruth Night. Some fans dressed up and tried to resemble The Babe. The organization also honored the memory of former New York firefighter (NYFD) Jerry Barbara with a video tribute after the game. Fireworks were also on display following the proceedings. ... The three-game series wraps up later today at 4 PM. Former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice will be on hand signing autographs.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hilligoss Progressing Well On Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, NY -One player who has stood out for the Baby Bombers this season is infielder Mitch Hilligoss.

With two more hits in three plate appearances in Friday night's 9-7 loss to Lowell, the former University of Purdue product moved into a second place tie for the NY-Penn League in hitting with a .346 average. Aside from that, the Staten Island shortstop/third baseman also ranks second with 53 hits. He also was tied for second on the club with Wilmer Pino with seven stolen bases and placed second in walks (17) and on-base percentage (.409) entering Friday.

Selected by the Yankees in the sixth round of this year's MLB Draft, the 21 year-old from Windsor Illinois has gotten acclimated quickly to professional baseball.

"I'm going out there everyday getting in a groove," Hilligoss said after also scoring two runs and notching his 27th RBI of the season.

"When you're hitting well, you don't think about it much. When you're hitting bad, sometimes you're really tested and you got to work a little harder maybe that next day."

One of the things the two-time first team Big Ten shortstop appreciated the most was that he was able to star close to home, which made it easier for the home folks to see him.

"It was great," he expressed. "My family got to go about everywhere we went. Made about every road trip. That helps a lot. Any transition that helps with your parents being close by and family members."

Though he has done really well adjusting from college to his rookie season in A Ball, the former Boilermaker star has noticed a difference.

"Pitching's been good. Up and down for the most part. A lot more movement on fastballs you see. Some decent breaking balls but it's just getting into a groove," as he previously pointed out.

It would help explain his continued success from college. In his junior year at Purdue, Hilligoss paced the Boilermakers with a .386 average and scored a program record 62 runs along with leading them with a .579 slugging percentage and .453 on-base percentage.

That kind of production was good enough for the Yankees to take him 194th overall this past June- making him the 42nd Boilermaker taken in the draft's history and the first to ever be scooped up by the Bronx Bombers.

"It's amazing," he said. "A lot of build up. A lot of nerves. Tension. Everything. You don't know what's going to happen. Nobody really knows. That day, it was a great feeling."

After starting the season at short, Hilligoss has made a smooth transition to third without missing a beat. The interesting thing is he also played second and started college in left field, which makes him a very versatile asset.

"I personally think I might be a better outfielder than anything but third base has been good to me so far."

Aside from exuding confidence in his ability to play well at different positions, the first year infielder also spoke at length about the makeup of his new team.

"We got a good mix of guys. We're playing well together. Obviously, the pitching picked us up early. As of late, the hitting's been a little better. We just got to find a little consistency. Hopefully, we'll do both towards the stretch run even better than we have been."

Hilligoss also has one expectation.

"Our goal is to win our division and then see what happens with the NY-Penn League Championship."

Baby Bombers Spun Out By Lowell, Fall Out of First

STATEN ISLAND, NY -It was a tough night all around for the Baby Bombers. In the debut game which marked a new rivalry against Red Sox Class A affiliate Lowell, they were spun around in an ugly 9-7 loss on Johnny Damon Haircut Night before 3,741 at Richmond County Ball Park Friday.

The loss dropped Staten Island (26-18) out of first place in the McNamara Division a game behind the red hot Cyclones who won their 12th straight over Tri-City 9-5.

The game took over three hours to play and for good reason. The teams combined for 16 runs on 21 hits with five errors, 11 walks (seven by SI pitchers), three hit batsmen, two wild pitches and a balk.

There also was one ejection when Staten Island manager Gaylen Pitts was tossed in the first inning for arguing with home plate umpire Jeremy Crowe over whether Paul Smyth touched home after tagging up from third on a Luis Esposito sac fly for the game's first run. After he scored, catcher Francisco Cervelli protested and tagged home plate but didn't get the call. After he and starter Edgar Soto further debated it, Soto stepped off the mound and tossed to Cervelli but their appeal was denied which sent Pitts out of the dugout to take up the discussion with Crowe. After a brief chat, the skipper headed back but then abruptly turned around and got into a heated argument with the crew chief before being given an early exit.

"It happened. I should never get kicked out of a game that early," Pitts lamented. "I didn't think I said enough to get kicked out but he thought different. I was just wanting him to make a call. He told [Cervelli] he's got to go back and tag [Smyth] but he's already in the dugout. Then he kind of changed it and said he didn't have to make a call."

The skipper must have known it would be a tough night because his ballclub wasn't sharp a day after a five hour bus trip home from Vermont. After the teams exchanged first inning runs, the Baby Bombers put up three in the second to go ahead 4-1. Shortstop Christopher Kunda tripled in Cervelli and right fielder Wilkins De La Rosa followed with an RBI single. He came around to score the third run on Lowell shortstop Luis Segovia's throwing error to first.

However, the lead evaporated in an ugly fifth which saw the Spinners plate three to tie it without a ball leaving the infield. After Soto walked the first two, he was replaced by Tyler Addison. After fanning Jonathan Still, the reliever ran into further trouble by walking Luis Esposito to load the bases. It got even tougher when he wasn't able to field a Reid Engel baltimore chopper cleanly and tossed late to home for an infield single which made it 4-2. With the bases still packed, he lost control by forcing in the next two runs on hit batsmen. Addison finally got out of it by getting Segovia to ground into a 3-2-3 double play.

A Cervelli RBI single and Kevin Smith sac fly in the bottom half put Staten Island back in front 6-4 but the wheels fell off in an even worse sixth which saw Lowell bat around for five runs off losing reliever Edgar Omana (0-1). A Smyth RBI triple and a Still runscoring single tied it. Two batters later, Engel singled to give the Spinners the lead. Omana then balked the runners over to second and third. Still scored on a Manuel Arambarris sac fly and Engel came around to score Lowell's fifth run on an errant Pino toss to first. Ironically, it took Cervelli throwing out Jorge Jiminez at second to end the lengthy frame. The damage was done.

"We didn't rise to the occasion," a disappointed Pitts added. "We had a lead and then go out and walk people and hit people. That's not pro baseball. That's not the way we play the game. We played pretty good for a month, month and a half. Had a decent trip, then stink out the joint."

Trailing 9-6 in their final at bat, Staten Island made it interesting when the first two batters reached on back-to-back singles by Mitch Hilligoss and Kyle Larsen. After Seth Fortenberry struckout swinging, Lowell closer Terry Large uncorked a wild pitch which allowed Hilligoss to score cutting it to two. But with the tying run at the plate, Cervelli flew out to left and Smith grounded out to end it, allowing Large to escape with a two inning save and snap Lowell's (21-22) five-game losing skid.

"It didn't look like we were ready to get after it tonight," Pitts pointed out and took responsibility. "Didn't pitch good enough. Didn't play good enough. Give the other team credit...They should be ready to play when they go out there. Tonight I didn't think we were."

Notes: The loss snapped a two-game win streak. ... On Johnny Damon Haircut Night, some fans got their hair trimmed similar to the Yankee centerfielder as part of a free promotion. At least they didn't cough up any dough. ... Lowell reliever Jean Guillen tossed a scoreless two thirds to improve to 4-1. ... With two more hits, S.I. SS Hilligoss raised his average to .346. He entered Friday third in hitting behind Lowell's Aaron Bates and Zachary Daeges. NY-Penn League leader Bates (.360) had the night off while Daeges was hitless in two at bats to drop into a second place tie with Hilligoss. ... The three-game series continues tonight at St. George with a 7 PM start.