Wednesday, July 25, 2007

West side is the best side in Ripken League all-star game

County-based teams on winning side of 6-0 score

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When the third annual Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game ended, members of the West team decided to have a little fun with Bethesda Big Train manager Sal Colangelo. The charismatic skipper was at the helm of the West squad Monday night at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, and was on the top step of the dugout when Herndon Braves reliever Phillip Deane recorded the final out of the team’s 6-0 victory over the East.

When the final pitch reached home plate, the West players made the unseasonably chilly night even colder for Colangelo, pouring a bucket of water over his head. Those type of moments are generally reserved for championship victories rather than exhibition games, and with the league playoffs on the horizon, the Bethesda coach would rather receive that kind of dowsing about two weeks from now. But even he had to admit to having a blast on Monday night.

‘‘Oh it’s cold, so extremely, extremely cold,” he said with a smile. ‘‘Wasn’t expecting that, but it’s great to relax a little bit before the playoffs. It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere and it’s nice for the managers to get out here for something like this.”

Colangelo managed the West squad by virtue of his team’s second-place overall record in the Ripken league standings through 36 games (each team plays 40). The Big Train (22-14) were joined by players from the Rockville Express, Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts and Herndon Braves, and squared off against a roster comprised of members of Youse’s Maryland Orioles, the Maryland Redbirds and the College Park Bombers.

The West jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and never looked back. With the bases loaded and only one out, Thunderbolts outfielder and game Most Valuable Player Joe Fowler crushed a three-run double to the left-center-field gap to provide the team with all the scoring it would need.

The East could never get untracked, mustering only six hits on the night. Two players who went hitless were Montgomery County products: Bombers first baseman Mike Celenza, a 2006 Quince Orchard grad; and Redbirds center fielder Matt Boyd, a 2005 Magruder alum.

Both went 0-2 on the evening as the fourth- and fifth-place hitters in the lineup, each striking out at the hands of dynamic Big Train righty Brian Anderson (3-0, 1.87 earned-run average), who punched out the side in the second inning.

However, both were just happy to be playing last night. Boyd, a rising junior at George Washington University, said that both he and Colonials head coach Steve Mrowka had set the all-star game as his main goal before entering the summer league.

And Celenza, a rising sophomore at Division III Salisbury, has exceeded all of the expectations he had before the CRSCBL season. Though he had a great rookie season with the Sea Gulls, hitting .363 while starting in all 43 games, he didn’t quite know what to expect from a wooden-bat league featuring players from the nation’s top schools.

But he has absolutely thrived for the Bombers. Entering the all-star game, he led the entire league with a .355 batting average, pounding out a team-high 39 hits and driving home 18 runs in 34 games. He also just the earned co-hitter of the week award (July 9 through 15) by going 11-21 with a 1.279 on-base, plus slugging percentage in six games.

‘‘It’s been better than I even thought it’d be,” said Celenza, the 2006 Gazette High School Player of the Year. ‘‘I mean, obviously the competition level is top notch and we have some of the best players in the country out here. Just to know that I’m D-III and you know what, I can play with Division I guys — I think this will definitely help me when I go back to school.”

Over 2,400 fans came to Aberdeen to watch the night’s festivities, which included a home-run derby before the game. Long balls were scarce in the deep dimensions of Ripken Stadium, but Express catcher Steve Domecus was able to capture the crown by going deep off an outhouse roof beyond the fence in left center. After hitting two bombs in the first round, his second-round homer was the only one of the final round, and he edged out Fowler, who nailed three blasts in his opening round on 10 swings.

The night was arguably most enjoyable for the league’s managers, like Tom Shaffer of the Express. His team currently residing in the important third spot in the standings (19-15) — the top three teams at the end of the season get two League Championship Series byes. But with his team right in the thick of a playoff race, a night off from the pressure was enjoyable.

‘‘It’s nice to get out here and watch everyone play on the [same night],” Shaffer said. ‘‘You know, it’s a day off for everyone, and it’s fun to be on the same side as guys you’re facing all summer.”