Sunday, September 10, 2006

Baby Bombers Sweep Rival Cyclones, Go For Repeat

STATEN ISLAND, NY - The brooms were out in full force as the Staten Island Yankees used a six-run third and a brilliant pitching performance from Tim Norton to convincingly take Game Two 9-0- sweeping the rival Brooklyn Cyclones in the first round of the NY-Penn League playoffs before 1,614 energized fans at Richmond County Ball Park Sunday evening.

"We've played a lot of close games. It's nice to have a game like that," skipper Gaylen Pitts pointed out. "I thought it would be a good series. That game last night- the first game in a short series is one you want to win...We were able to do that and I think that set the tone."

"Rivalries are good in baseball. I don't think we have enough of them. And since I've been here, I've seen what this means to the fans, the players. It's a good clean rivalry."

"It is exciting," added reliever Nick Peterson. "We came out and played great ball tonight. Whatever it takes...The guys have been hitting the ball, fielding the ball, pitching well. When you put it all together, you're going to win ballgames. We've been able to do it all successfully and that's why we're winning."

Their reward is a place in the league championship series against either Tri-City or Auburn starting either Tuesday or Wednesday night on the road depending on who advances. Tri-City led the series 1-0 entering Sunday night. By clinching a berth, the Baby Bombers will have a chance to repeat as league champs and go for their fourth NY-Penn League title in seven years.

"It feels great," third baseman Mitch Hilligoss said after finishing with two hits including a clutch two-run single in the third which helped break the game open and key a big inning. "Especially against our rivals like the Cyclones. The crowd was great. A lot of energy on both sides. To jump on them early was nice."

Despite taking both games and outscoring Brooklyn 14-2 to move on, Hilligoss kept things in perspective.

"It wasn't easy. You look at last night's game 5-2 but we were scratching for runs. They helped us out and we probably helped them out a little. Today, we kind of put it together and got a couple of key hits and bunched them together instead of just getting one here there. We kind of played a little bigger ball today."

Retired in order the first two innings, they got to losing Brooklyn starter Todd Privett (0-1) by doing exactly what Hilligoss said to put together a huge third which decided the outcome.

After Francisco Cervelli and Chris Kunda singled to start it, Wilkins De La Rosa sacrificed them into scoring position. Left fielder Seth Fortenberry's sharp single to center plated Cervelli for the game's first run. Privett then plunked Wilmer Pino to load the bases for Hilligoss, who singled to left which scored two more. Brooklyn left fielder Dustin Martin's throwing error also allowed Pino to score clearing the bases. That's when Staten Island DH Kyle Larsen delivered the big blow. Already up four runs, he drove the first pitch he saw over the right field fence for a two-run home run to finally conclude the offensive outburst.

"I'm just starting to finally feel good again," Larsen mentioned after hitting a homer for the second consecutive game to derail the Cyclones. "My swing is relaxed. Definitely feeling good. So hopefully keep it going here for the second series."

"[Larsen] was telling me last night how he likes to play in the playoffs. Well, he's turned it up a notch," Pitts observed.

Making that six-run cushion stand up was Norton (1-0), who had Brooklyn batters off balance all night. The rating NY-Penn League pitcher of the week was so dominant that he took a no-hitter into the seventh. After getting the first two batters, he finally allowed a Dan Murphy single to right which broke it up and then got a deserved loud ovation from the crowd before coming back to strike out Elvis Cruz- ending his day with seven scoreless allowing just the one hit to go with three walks and four K's.

"It went well. I had a couple too many walks- three or four but my defense played well and I made pitches when I needed to," the winning starter remarked.

"I knew my pitches were getting up," he said in reference to the no-hit bid. "So I knew I'd be coming out soon and there's two out, no one on, 2-2 count and I kept coming with a fastball and [Murphy] hit it. So I tip my cap. It was good."

Staten Island tacked on insurance runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth to easily cruise to the 9-0 victory. Reliever Luke Trubee tossed the final two frames and concluded it fittingly by getting Martin looking on a belt high fastball which painted the outside corner to touch off a brief celebration on the field. However, they know the job isn't done.

"It feels real good," Norton added of getting the chance to play for the championship. "Now we get a day off and we're playing well. So we're excited about the next round and whoever we play."

Notes: The Baby Bombers outscored the Cyclones 9-0 and outhit them 12-2. They also were better in the field committing no errors while their opponents booted two. ... Hilligoss, Larsen and Kunda each finished with multihit games combining to go 7-for-12 with a dinger, four RBI's and six runs scored. ... The top five S.I. hitters each knocked in a run finishing with seven RBI's. ... Eight of nine batters finished with a hit. ... The game took only two hours and 20 minutes to complete.

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