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SO FAR Third year could prove to be filled with champion charm



Published: Mon, June 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Scrappers have advanced to the title round in each of their first two seasons.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers may have spoiled area fans with their 1999 debut, which included a first-place Pinckney-Stedler Division finish and a run to the New York-Penn League championship series.

Although the Scrappers lost to the Hudson Valley Renegades in the best-of-three title series, it provided a foundation on which to build.

Under the leadership of manager Ted Kubiak, the Scrappers gave fans an encore with another first-place division finish and five added victories in 2000.

But their run to the New York-Penn League championship trophy was stopped short again, this time by the Staten Island Yankees, who won in three games.

In perspective: "They've almost had two championships," said Neal Huntington, director of player development for the Cleveland Indians. "That's a hard league to do that in. Most players are new to professional baseball -- they have to get accustomed to the wooden bat and playing every night."

On their way to the title series, the Scrappers of 2000 won games dramatically and in pulsating fashion. Fans at Cafaro Field were treated to game-ending celebrations.

Great start: It began in the home opener when second baseman Joe Inglett hit a game-winning single with the bases loaded that gave the Scrappers a 7-6 win over Utica.

"You wonder if it's a new year and if it's going to stop," Kubiak said after the game. "Then this thing happens."

Then, it was Ryan Church's turn in the sixth game of the season.

The outfielder, who went on to win the league's RBI title (65) and finish second in the home-run race (10), hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave Mahoning Valley a 3-2 win over Utica.

Those type of rallies set the tone for the season, in which the Scrappers won the Pinckney-Stedler Division by nine games over Batavia.

Meanwhile, pitching coach Terry Clark had a number of solid pitchers to teach, including left-handers Simon Young (league-best 1.75 earned-run average) and Brandon Matheny; the steady Kyle Evans and Steve Fitch; and starter-turned-closer Brian Jackson, who recorded 11 saves for the league's fourth-best mark.

Building momentum: The Scrappers capped the regular season on Church's game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-6 win over Batavia, the Scrappers' opponent in the division playoffs for the second straight year.

Mahoning Valley didn't waste any time in the first round, ousting the Muckdogs in two games (3-2 and 6-1) in the best-of-three format.

The 2000 New York-Penn League championship series opened in Staten Island, N.Y., where the Scrappers traveled for Game 1 with the hope of avenging the '99 series loss to Hudson Valley.

With their pitching staff ranked first in the 14-team league, the Yankees came through with a 9-0 victory that gave them command of the series.

But Henry Pichardo wasn't about to let the Scrappers' season end that quickly.

In one of the most dramatic games in Cafaro Field's two-year history, Pichardo hit a game-winning, 11th-inning home run that lifted the Scrappers to a 9-8 victory and kept their championship hopes alive.

Big shot: Nate Janowicz saved the Scrappers in the bottom of the ninth inning when he hit a solo home run that tied the score at 6.

The Scrappers had trailed 5-1, 6-5 and 8-6 but rallied in a game that included 12 pitchers and took nearly four hours to play.

First baseman Jeff Haase may have said it best after the game: "That is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever been a part of in my entire life. It's our never-say-die attitude. Guys are on their knees praying in the dugout. [Coaches] are saying, 'Never quit believing.' "

The hype, however, didn't last, because Staten Island pitchers took control of Game 3 and the series. The Yankees defeated the Scrappers 4-2 at Cafaro Field and celebrated the league crown by winning two games to one.

In the off-season, Kubiak was promoted to manage the Class A full-season Columbus (Ga.) RedStixx. Dave Turgeon was hired to take over the Scrappers in their third season in the Mahoning Valley.




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