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Aspinwall all-stars win River League tournament

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2003

Another tournament, another championship for Aspinwall's 12-and-under all-star baseball team.

A week after winning the Sharpsburg Tournament, Aspinwall's all-stars traveled to Natrona Heights and came home with another title.

Aspinwall defeated Freeport, 4-2, in the championship game July 27.

The Allegheny River League Tournament was played under Bronco rules, which meant longer basepaths (70 feet as opposed to the 60 feet used in Little League), more stealing, balks and other adjustments for Aspinwall's players.

"We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into," Aspinwall manager Dan Ware said. "We decided it would be a good learning opportunity for the older guys who would be moving up (to Pony League) next year to gain some experience. Never did we dream that we would make a run to the title."

Aspinwall opened with an 11-6 victory over host Natrona Heights as Seth Backer went the distance on the mound and leadoff hitter Lou Curcio finished 3-for-4. Andrew Harner started the scoring by tripling in a pair of runs in the third inning, and Jordan Meder later cleared the bases with a three-run double.

The win set up a rematch between Aspinwall and Penn Township. Aspinwall had won an earlier meeting between the teams at another tournament, rallying from four runs down to win, 8-6.

In the rematch, Penn Township took advantage of some Aspinwall errors to score five runs on just one hit in the fourth inning and held a 5-4 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.

That's when Aspinwall put together a game-winning rally that started with Mike Monahan drawing a walk. He moved to second on a single by Casey Leslie, and Curcio stroked a base hit to right to tie the game at 5-all.

Aspinwall pulled out a 6-5 victory when Stefano Iacono singled to right to drive in the winning run.

In the semifinals, Aspinwall won its first meeting with Freeport, 6-1, behind a towering three-run home run by Harner.

That victory moved Aspinwall into the championship round, where it again faced Freeport, which had advanced through the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament.

Freeport handed Aspinwall its first loss in the tournament, 8-2. In the game, Aspinwall made two outstanding defensive plays.

Second baseman Monahan stabbed a smash up the middle and in one motion flipped the ball to shortstop Harner, who made the throw to first base to get the runner. Meder also made a running catch in right field and rifled the ball to catcher Patrick Powers at home plate to gun down the runner attempting to score from third base.

Freeport's victory set up a showdown for the tournament title. As he had in the Sharpsburg Tournament's championship game, Ware handed the ball to his ace pitcher Harner.

And Harner again came through with an outstanding performance.

Harner struck out five and was in control throughout Aspinwall's 4-2 victory. Freeport scored a run in the fifth inning and another in the sixth, but Harner ended the game when he knocked down a shot up the middle and flipped the ball to first base for the final out.

Aspinwall played strong defense, getting key plays in the field from Monahan at second base and Steve Zappala at first.

Aspinwall scored its first run in the second inning when Andrew Zinn reached on an error and eventually came home on a wild pitch. In the third inning, Backer singled and stole second and third before scoring on a base hit by Monahan to make it 2-0.

Powers stole home in the fourth inning to stretch Aspinwall's lead to 3-0, and Iacono drove in Zappala with a single to extend the margin to 4-0.

Aspinwall closed out a successful summer with back-to-back tournament victories.

"I'm very proud of what we accomplished this summer," Ware said. "This was a special team. They came together and supported one another and focused on the task at hand. When you get the cohesiveness that our group had, it's very tough to beat us.

"I benefited from working with great coaches like Lou Curcio, Aldo Iacono and Chris Harner, and the hard work they and the kids put in really put us in position to win."

Ware said everyone on the team contributed to Aspinwall's success.

"We had support up and down our lineup with the kids picking one another up if someone was struggling," he said. "Brandon Van Tassell played brilliantly at third base and pitched a great relief inning, striking out the side. Casey Leslie came back from vacation and provided us with a spark at catcher, first base, left field -- wherever I needed him, he came through. Nate Bucsko provided us with insurance in the outfield as well as speed on the basepaths.

"I'm just sorry to see this end. It was great fun."

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