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Stellar defense keeps game close



Published: Mon, June 21, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



Brian Finegan's diving stop in the eighth inning was one of many good plays.

By BILL SULLIVAN

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

NILES -- The fans may come to Eastwood Field for the ambiance, but this year they'll return for the defense.

At least five times Sunday, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers came up with the sort of spectacular defensive plays that a team can use to put distance in the standings.

Despite losing to the Auburn Doubledays 8-5, the Scrappers looked anything but like a minor league team in the field; indeed, one play bordered on the incredible range.

"Whoever we put out there seems to be playing well defensively," Manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "It helps our pitchers feel like they can make guys make contact and feel good about it. That's always a plus."

Solid play

A Doubleday led off the eighth inning with a single and the next batter hit the ball over second base bag where Mahoning Valley shortstop Brian Finegan had to dive for the stop.

After rising off his belly to his knees, Finegan, 22, from the University of Hawaii, easily threw out the batter.

"It was a ground ball up the middle," Finegan said. "I knew I had a chance at him if I could get it in my glove.

"When I got it, gosh, he was only about half way down the line so I pretty much had him from there."

It appeared the ball was unreachable when initially hit.

"That was probably one of the best plays I've ever made, so don't expect that every night," Finnegan said.

Finegan also was part of two run-saving double plays in Saturday's 2-1 win against Auburn. He has been playing baseball 16 years.

Nice stops

In the sixth inning, the Doubledays had a runner on third with one out. Finegan came in to the edge of the grass and caught a low pop-up.

His alert toss to third easily caught the runner off base.

"Right spot at the right time," Finegan said. "It was a knuckleball, kind of. I just caught it and did what I know what to do. It was instincts from there, it happened so quickly."

With one out in the eighth, the Doubledays had a runner on base and the batter hit a smash to Chris Clem at third. His relay to Argenis Reyes at second and then to Fernando Pacheco at first resulted in another inning-ending double play.

"That was a good play in a spot where we needed it, too, late in the game," Sarbaugh said. "We've got some good defenders, that's for sure."

Reyes had to wait for a baserunner to go past him in the fifth inning before fielding a ball at second. His throw to first just beat the batter to stop another rally.

sullivan@vindy.com




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