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Friday, May 30, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: “Extra” Special! : Columbus Baseball Invitational Tournament; Day 3

From the moment the Yeshivah of Flatbush Varsity Baseball team arrived in Columbus, Ohio, the boys set out to enjoy every moment of the experience and do everything they could to make it last as long as possible. To that end, they succeeded marvelously, extending the final game of the tournament to extra innings before ending the 3-day celebration of baseball and Judaism in America’s Heartland with an emphatic exclamation point!

The first order of business was to wake up, clean up and pack up; not necessarily done in that order. After prodding from the Capital University housing staff, the boys returned the dorm very nearly to the state in which they first found it, then loaded up the bus for the short ride to the JCC for breakfast, followed by the final games of the Tournament – for Flatbush this meant a cost-to-coast battle for 3rd place with the Shalhevet Firehawks of Los Angeles, CA.

With a number of Falcons nursing minor injuries and well as some aches and pains, this game would provide the opportunity for a number of the reserves to take center stage. Nevertheless, the goal for the day –as it is EVERY day – was to play to win. However, the outlook was bleak for the Falcons as they hit a major speed bump just two batters in. Freshman Pitcher Kevin Haddad was handed the ball to start things off, and it looked like it might be smooth sailing when the lead-off hitter hit a hard grounder right at the Falcon second baseman. But the routine grounder was booted, and by the time the ball was recovered, the runner had crossed safely past first base. With the next pitch, it was clear that something was wrong with Haddad’s motion. He could not deliver the ball without discomfort, and a change was required. The coaches called on another rookie, Teddy Beyda to come on in relief. Though not his first choice of position (or his second or third, for that matter), Beyda gamely stepped up and took the ball. He was generally around the strike zone, which was key, but the defense faltered. Beyda yielded only one hit, but coupled with two errors, the Falcons found themselves staring at a 3-0 deficit before ever picking up a bat.
Teddy Beyda was great in a long relief role
In the bottom of the first, the Falcons looked to get on board themselves. In what would become a routine occurrence, lead-off hitter Joey Dayon worked his way on base. Having drawn a walk, he promptly stole both second and third. With one out, Al Tawil hit a sharp grounder to second, driving in Dayon with Flatbush’s first run of the game. They would get no more that inning, but the Falcons were on the board. In the second inning, Beyda found his rhythm, setting the Firehawks down in order. In the bottom half, Elliot Zakay picked up the first Falcon hit of the game, and moved into scoring position on an error. Zakay moved to third on a passed ball, but he was stranded there when neither of the next two batters could drive him in.

In the third inning, Shalhevet loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Beyda bore down on the next batters, first inducing a looping liner to Morris Bijou at second and then getting a flair to shortstop that was reeled in by Ray Betesh. But Beyda’s control slipped, and he walked the next two batters to let in two more runs before getting the final out of the inning on a high fly pulled in by Dayon in centerfield. In the top of the fourth the Firehawks struck for three more runs. Beyda battled valiantly, recording the second out of the inning on a sacrifice fly to center in which Dayon just missed throwing the runner out at the plate. Beyda was now out of gas. Beyda took over at short, and Moe Maleh was called from the pen to try and shut down the Shalhevet attack. He quickly got the hitter to hit a slow roller up the first base line which he scooped up, then applied the tag for the final out of the inning. But the damage was done; Shalhevet held a commanding 8-2 lead. That lead would extend by one more in the top half of the fifth, setting the stage for an even wilder comeback than the one put on by these Falcons less than 24 hours earlier.

Catalyst Joey Dayon reached base and scored every time at bat

Shuffling the line-up and shifting the defenders, the Flatbush coaches were looking to create a spark and light a fire under these Falcons. That spark came in the bottom of the fifth. Trailing by a seemingly insurmountable 9-2 deficit, and with two outs already recorded, the catalyst came to the plate. Dayon smacked a single, which he turned into a virtual triple by stealing second and third on the next two consecutive pitches. Dayon’s next actions were reminiscent of another Brooklyn athlete’s most iconic performance. Timing the pitcher, who was not paying him much attention, Dayon inched further and further down the line. And as the pitcher started his windup, Dayon broke for home. The Flatbush bench was on its feet, and the spectators gasped in disbelief. The pitcher continued his delivery ever so slowly towards the plate; and with each moment, Dayon sped closer and closer towards home. Here came the ball; here came Dayon. The two seemingly arrived at the plate simultaneously, Dayon’s foot hitting the plate as the ball settled in the catcher’s mitt. When the umpire signaled, “SAFE!,” the spectators erupted and the Flatbush bench went wild! The spark was taking root. With the pitcher rattled, Michael Shalom drew a walk and then employed the same formula as Dayon to use his speed to move to third, then scoring on a wild pitch. Moe Maleh followed with a double, but would be stranded at second. Nevertheless, the spark was lit as the Falcons closed the gap to 9-4.
Victor Allaham makes the play at second base
The spark would take full flame in the bottom of the sixth inning. Freshman Jackie Mishaan opened the inning with a line drive for a single. Elliot Zakay followed with a deep grounder to short, reaching safely as the throw sailed past the first baseman, allowing Mishaan to move to third. That brought another Freshman, Victor Allaham – inserted in the fourth inning at second base – to the plate. Allaham, in his first game action of the tournament connected for his first career hit as a Varsity Falcon looping the ball over the shortstop, scoring Mishaan from third and closing the deficit to four runs. Beyda followed with a grounder back to the pitcher, advancing the runners to second and third. With two outs and looking for an additional boost, the coaches inserted Nathan Haddad, who had been given the game off to rest a sore arm, to pinch hit. Haddad came through with a huge 2-RBI single, scoring both Zakay and Allaham, and bring up the top of the order. Dayon and Shalom continued the hit parade, With Dayon plating Nathan Haddad, and Shalom plating Dayon. The Falcons were now trailing by only one run! That brought to the plate one of the Falcons’ most feared hitters, Moe Maleh. With Shalom on third, Maleh connected, smacking a single into the outfield and knocking in Shalom. For the second time in as many days, Flatbush had come back from a 7-run deficit; the game was tied! Looking to take the lead, Maleh stole second and third, and looked to draw an errant throw in order to score the lead run. Instead, Maleh was picked off trying to score, ending the threat. But, it was now a whole ne w ball game!
Jackie Mishaan prepares to lace the ball into center for a single in the Falcons 5-run 6th inning
The seventh inning proved uneventful for both teams. Maleh returned to the mound and set down the Firehawks in order in the top half; the Falcons went equally as quietly in the bottom half, sending the game – and the tournament (the Championship game between Kushner and Ida Crown having just finished with Ida Crown taking the tournament championship) - into extra innings!

Facing the top of the Shalhevet batting order, Maleh induced a sharp grounder to third. Shaya Tawil, a mid-game replacement fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw was a bit high, pulling Mishaan off the bag at first allowing the Firehawks runner to land safely at first. He would advance to second and third on passed balls. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Maleh struck out the next batter for the first out of the inning. Taking a page out of the Flatbush book, the runner on third broke for home. Maleh saw him break out of the corner of his eye, and moved to throw him out. But being relatively new to the art of pitching, Maleh neglected to step off the pitching rubber before running at the runner. The umpire immediately yelled out, “Balk!,” and awarded the runner home plate. Shalhevet took the lead back, 10-9. Maleh gave up no more runs, but the damage was done. The Falcons would have one more chance to get the run back and keep the game going.
Moe Maleh pitched a solid 4+innings of relief
Looking to catch lightning in a bottle, the coaches inserted the third Haddad on the roster, Michael, to pinch hit (he, too, was given the game off as he caught games one and two and would be catching games the next two days going forward). Haddad connected, but it was right at the Firehawk shortstop who collected the ground ball and threw out the speedy Haddad for the first out of the inning. The next batter would go down on strikes. After all the work to come back, the Falcons were down to their final out of the tournament. But if there is one thing for certain about these Falcons, it is that they never believe they are out of it. As long as there is a second left on the clock, or an out to be recorded, the game is not over; there is still a chance. Up stepped the youngest Haddad, Kevin, looking to keep the game alive. With calmness beyond his years, Haddad waited patiently for his pitch. Facing a count of one ball and two strikes, he got it, driving a hard single into centerfield, bringing the batting order back to the top, and the team catalyst Joey Dayon to the plate. Dayon took the first pitch, allowing Haddad to steal second and move into scoring position. Dayon then connected on the next pitch, but it was a weak grounder to second, and it looked to be the end for the Falcons. The Shalhevet second basemen fielded the ball cleanly, and jogged towards second thinking to record the final out right there. But he forgot that Kevin Haddad was no longer at first base, having stolen second the pitch before. There was no runner to force at second! Dayon raced down the baseline, safe at first, and the game would go on. It was a horrible “brain-lock” for the Firehawk fielder, but as New York Yankees radio announcer John Sterling is wont to note, “That’s baseball!”

The stage was now set. With two on and two out, coming to the plate was Michael Shalom. Dayon would steal second on the first pitch to Shalom, putting the tying and winning runs in scoring position. The Shalhevet hurler looked in and let fly the pitch. Shalom liked it, started his bat and turned on the fastball, meeting the ball squarely and lofting it deep into left field. It was clear as soon as he connected that the ball was over the leftfielder’s head. With both runners off with the crack of the bat, it was clear that Haddad and Dayon would both easily score. The Falcons would win the game! But as Shalom rounded first base, the ball was still travelling. Lo and behold, the drive travelled over 300 feet easily clearing the left field fence. Shalom ended the tournament with a walk-off 3-run home run! With his teammates gathered and awaiting him at home plate, Shalom planted his foot down touching off a raucous celebration.
Michael Shalom heads for home after his walk-off 3-run home run sealed the Falcons’ comeback victory!
No matter what anyone says, the bus ride home, especially a really long one, is much more pleasant with a trophy riding along as a co-pilot!

Nest Notes:
No rest for the weary. The day after returning from Columbus, the Falcons hosted Heschel in a key League match-up at the team’s home field of Comer Field in Brooklyn. Taking the hill for Flatbush was Joey Dayon. Dayon kept the Heat at bay for nearly the entire game, while the offense built an insurmountable lead, yielding a 3-run homer late to allow them to close the gap to the final tally of 10-4 in favor of the home Falcons. The win clinches a home playoff game for the Falcons in the quarterfinals.