Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Raiders, Dodgers Prep For One Last Run

Teammates congratulate Mike Cieszko after he hit a two-run homer vs. Clifton Park in the championship game of the Upper New York State Connie Mack Tournament. (Tom Killips — The Record).

William Montgomery

The Record

COLONIE – The nine-team 2008 North Atlantic Connie Mack Regional begins today in the Capital Region with a trip to Farmington, New Mexico and a spot in the Connie Mack World Series on the line. Both the South Troy Dodgers and the South Colonie Raiders will be vying for the World Series berth with a distinct home field advantage.

This afternoon, the Dodgers play host to the Brooklyn Bonnies at Geer Field and the Raiders will, in a recent turn of events, play the Brooklyn Youth Service squad at Colonie High School. Both games begin at 5 p.m.

Tournament director George Rogers was looking for another site to host an opening round game and called South Colonie manager Ed Kelly to see if the field at Colonie High was available. For Kelly, the answer was obvious.

“I said, absolutely, I’d love to host a game. It’s a good starting point for us,” Kelly said. “Especially now in a regional tournament with the Brooklyn Youth Service, the Brooklyn Bonnies, the South Troy Dodgers and a team from Ontario coming down, I think it’s tremendous that we get to host it in our own backyard.”

South Colonie (27-5) won the Upper New York Connie Mack Tournament on Saturday with an 11-8 victory over the Clifton Park Yankees, their second consecutive state title. The Raiders can thank a trio of three-year players – all Colonie High graduates – for the string of recent success.

“Pretty much since seventh and eighth grade we’ve been playing school ball together,” said Tyler Agneta, a South Colonie pitcher who enters his sophomore year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall. “We have a lot of experience on the team, but I’d like to see what we can do one last time.”

This Connie Mack season may well be the last time Agneta, shortstop Matt June and centerfielder Joe Poleto all play together on the same team.

“We just want to have a better showing than last year,” said Poleto, who begins his freshman year at Hudson Valley Community College in the fall. “Every team we play now is going to be a lot tougher.”

Brooklyn Youth Service appeared in the area earlier in July in the Connie Mack World Series Qualifier hosted by the South Troy Dodgers. The Youth Service program has produced major leaguers like Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox and Joel Chimelis, the current hitting coach of the Tri-City ValleyCats.

The Raiders, who also played in the Qualifier, are well aware of the level of talent they’ll be facing this week.

“We played the Florida Legends and they’re probably one of the best in the country too,” said June, headed to SUNY Cortland. “I think we’re ready for anything. We have the pitching to do it.”

“(Brooklyn is) going to have plenty of ammunition to come at us,” said Kelly, “and so does South Troy. They have some phenomenal talent over there.”

The Dodgers feature a veritable local high school all-star team, including third baseman Kyle Charron, The Record’s 2008 high school Player of the Year.

Connie Mack rules allow winning teams to pick up players from eliminated clubs and the Raiders added a pair of Rensselaer County standouts for their stretch run. Jamie Schultz (Maple Hill High) and Nolan Gaige (Columbia High), members of the Sorensco DevilCats, the team that won the Eastern New York Connie Mack regular season title, tried on their South Colonie jerseys on Tuesday. The DevilCats’ duo will add depth to the Raiders’ bullpen.

“Coming into this, we know that it’s going to take a lot of pitching to get through the tournament,” Agneta said. “Especially if we lose a game and it’s that many more games we have to play and that many more innings we have to eat up.”

Kelly, who used to coach Little League, Babe Ruth and Connie Mack teams at the same time, decided to focus solely on his Connie Mack team a few years ago because of the relationships he can build with the older players.

“It’s their last year and you hope everything goes well for them,” said Kelly, “and that they take it as far as they can. With this group, I know they gave it all they got.”

2008 North Atlantic Connie Mack Regional Opening Round

Waltham, Mass. receives first round bye

At R.P.I.

Connecticut Bombers vs Long Island Titans, 1 p.m.

At Geer Field

Ontario Blue Jays vs Clinton, N.J., 1 p.m.

South Troy Dodgers vs Brooklyn Bonnies, 5 p.m.

At Colonie High School

Brooklyn Youth Service vs South Colonie, 5 p.m.

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