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Young Crusaders gain valuable summer experience

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Gene McDonnell said he often gets strange looks from tournament officials when he turns up with his team’s birth certificates to verify their ages. It’s because his Astoria Crusaders are so young.

The squad competes in the Long Island Baseball Association Under-18 division, but there isn’t one player anywhere near 18 years old. Most of the team is comprised of up-and-coming McClancy players who were on the junior varsity team last year.

“I do it to get these guys experience,” said McDonnell, a McClancy assistant varsity coach said. “I want to know what they know and what they don’t know so I know what to coach before we get into the season.”

Alex Miden is the elder statesman and he’s a rising senior. Conversely, the Crusaders faced a seasoned Brooklyn Bonnies squad with Albany-bound flamethrower Kasceim Graham on the hill in a playoff game Tuesday.

The Crusaders fell 10-8, but the experience was a positive one for players like catcher Mike Gugliemi and third baseman Jose Urena, two sophomores who could find themselves on the varsity team in the fall.

“Playing older kids helps us a lot,” Miden said. “If you can play with these kids, you can play with anybody.”

Early on, the Crusaders looked every bit their age early on against Graham, the former Bishop Ford star, whose fastball was clocked at 91 mph in the AABA Connie Mack Regional in South Troy, N.Y.

Graham reared back and fired gas, fanning four of the first five batters he faced. But the Crusaders showed resolve to bounce back from an early 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the third on back-to-back errors by third baseman Justin Pupa.

But a two-out, two-run single to center was followed by two errors by Urena and the Bonnies were back in front 6-2.

That lead became 10-2 before the Crusaders rallied again, this time scoring six runs in the bottom of the seventh before their miraculous comeback attempt came up short.

“That was very good,” Miden said.

While the Bonnies advance to the second round of the playoffs, the season isn’t over for Astoria. After all, this was just game No. 51.

“We’ll play two or three games against the Midville Dodgers next week to stay a little sharp and then we go to Reading, Pa., for a nice tournament,” McDonnell said. “I don’t want them to go stale over the next 10 days.”

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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