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Friday, June 6, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: Celebration Sunday; Runners Rejoice & Baseball Moves On

This past Sunday, Flatbush athletes did more than just Celebrate Israel in marching up 5th Avenue with their teachers and their fellow students. Before the parade, they took to the road and afterwards they took to the field. And with support and fanfare all around, the Falcon student-athletes had a fantastic day from start to finish!
Joe Balasiano, Michael Elkharrat & Elliot Levy
 after competing in the 4-mile
 Celebrate Israel Run in Central Park

Getting an early start to this Celebration Sunday, four members of the Flatbush Track team and their coach represented the school in the pre-parade Celebrate Israel Run in Central Park. Jack Sasson finished the 4-mile course in 29:00.00, right at his target pace (if not for the racer in front of him stopping right at the finish line, he would have easily been under his benchmark time). Coach Miriam Wielgus finished in the top ¼ of female runners in her age group; a very impressive showing indeed! Also running from Flatbush were Joe Balasiano, Michael Elkharrat and Elliot Levy. Of the experience Levy remarked, “it was really a lot of fun!” All made it to the marshalling area well in advance of Flatbush’s start-off time, and all still exuded energy as they joined along with their classmates and teachers in this 50th edition of the NYC parade in support of the State of Israel.
Janet Chrem supports Israel & the NY Rangers as she marches up 5th Avenue with the rest of Yeshivah of Flatbush
After the parade, the Flatbush Varsity Baseball team was hoping for a celebration of another kind, that of victory on the ball field. In addition to the parade, Sunday marked the opening day of the MYHSAL Baseball Playoffs. Finishing the regular season with the 3-seed, the Falcons earned a home re-match with the SAR Sting. It would be a rubber match for the two teams, having split the regular season series with each team taking a 1-0 win on the others’ home field. In both of those contests, the Falcons just could not get the bats working.
Moe Maleh and Michael Tawil take the Falcons through pre-game drills
But, that was before Columbus; before the Falcons found their hitting groove. Before the Falcons were playing games before large crowds. And in keeping with the celebratory mode of the day, the Flatbush faithful were out in force, filling the stands to overflowing at Comer Field. The question: which team would show up – pre-Columbus that couldn’t hit worth a lick or post-Columbus that has been knocking the cover off the ball?

It turned out that the offenses from both teams would be slow starters. SAR would lead off the game with a rare single off Flatbush stud pitcher Ralph Navarro, but he would bear down and with solid defensive help, strand the runner at third. Flatbush went quietly in the bottom of the first, and the teams matched zeroes for the first two innings. In the top of the third, SAR drew first blood. With a runner on second and one out, SAR hit a deep fly to Center that was pulled in by Joey Dayon. The runner tagged up, and Dayon sent a strike towards Freshman third baseman Teddy Beyda. With the runner bearing down on him, Beyda took his eye off the ball for a split-second, and in his rush to grab the throw and apply the tag at the same time, the ball glanced off his lowering mitt and sailed off out of play. The runner was awarded home, and SAR had the first run in a game between two teams where runs had been at a premium all season.

The Falcons shut the door on the Sting from that point, but could not equalize in the bottom half of the inning. But they did just that in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Dayon hit a hard shot that was knocked down by the SAR infield, but skittered away from the fielder. By the time he recovered and threw to first, the speedy Dayon was across the bag. Keeping his feet working, Dayon easily stole second. But, Dayon was not done. Timing the pitcher and getting a great jump, he took off for third. The ill-advised throw from the SAR catcher went high, and as the ball rolled into left field, Dayon popped up and sprinted home, tying the game at 1-1! Michael Shalom followed with a nice drive, and it looked like the Falcons might string a few runs together, with the hot-hitting Michael Haddad coming to the plate. Haddad scorched the first pitch thrown, but it went right at the third baseman, landing directly in his glove for the final out of the inning; the fielder appeared as shocked as Haddad that he caught the ball.
Moe Maleh’s play at First Base was key all night defensively for the Falcons
Despite the aching of a sore thumb developed in the first inning, Navarro continued to cruise, keeping the Sting batters off balance. But he needed assistance in the field, and that was provided by stellar glove work at first base by Moe Maleh, deftly scooping up everything tossed his way by the Falcon fielders. Together, the defense would keep the Sting off the scoreboard and set the stage for the Flatbush offense to catch fire. In the bottom of the 5th inning, it did just that, stringing base runners together and breaking out for two runs, sparked by a timely walk drawn by Junior outfielder Elliot Zakay, a solid drive from Freshman reserve Kevin Haddad and a BIG hit from Joey Dayon. With Zakay and Haddad on 3rd and 2nd bases respectively, Dayon connected to drive in Zakay, giving the Falcons a lead they would never relinquish! Michael Shalom was up next, and made contact knocking in Haddad and moving Dayon to second on the sacrifice. With a 2-run lead, Dayon on second and the big hitters coming up, it looked like the beginnings of a big inning, but a rare base running gaffe by Dayon emptied the bases, and Michael Haddad went down with a weak pop fly to second off the end of the bat to end the threat.
Kevin Haddad is mobbed by his Falcon teammates after scoring the teams third run of the game
The Falcons looked to stretch the lead again in the bottom of the sixth, with Moe Maleh keeping the hit parade going with a sharp single. He was followed by Sam Laniado, who exploded on the first pitch thrown to him for a pinch-hit double off the center field fence, putting runners at second and third with only one out. SAR made a pitching change and issued and intentional pass to Navarro (who was then replaced at first by Jackie Mishaan as a courtesy runner for the pitcher). That brought up Zakay with the bases loaded and only one out. But Zakay was called out on strikes (the called third strike was on the high side) and Kevin Haddad would ground out to end the threat.

That would leave things in the hands of the Falcon Ace Ralph Navarro. Would he have enough gas left in the tank – and strength in the arm – to close out the Sting? Navarro looked to struggle to find the strike zone, but battled to get the lead-off man to hit a pop fly for out number one. Still struggling, Navarro gave up a hit to the next batter, who would move to third on a steal and a passed ball. The next batter would walk, putting runners at the corners. It was getting edgy, but the crowd was behind Navarro and his fellow Falcons. Looking to make something happen, the SAR coaches put on the safety squeeze. The bunt was near perfect, with the batter pushing the ball slowly up the first base line. The runner from third easily scored as Navarro scrambled for the slow roller that looked like it would not have enough power to roll foul. He grabbed the ball and flipped it towards first base, but short of Maleh’s glove! No fear; Maleh gave a long stretch up the baseline, never losing contact with the bag, and smothered the loose bouncer with his glove for the huge second out. With the reprieve, Navarro regained his focus, and with the tying runner in scoring position, went right at the batter with his best stuff. The batter could only flail at the ball as it passed by. With strike three registered, the game was over and the last celebration of the day was on!
Ralph Navarro and his teammates now wait to see who they will play in the Semifinals on the Sunday after Shavuot
Nest Notes:
The task of repeating as champion will not be easy. With the dispensing of underrated 6th-seed SAR completed, the Falcons will take on the winner of Monday’s game between Kushner and TABC. The game will be played on Sunday, 6/8. Site and time still to be determined.