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Forest Hills makes mark in baseball

The all-star team made up of 12-year-olds loses its first game but rolls through the losers' bracket before falling again, this time to the eventual winner.

Fifteen young all-stars might not have brought home a national baseball title from Monterey, Calif., but they impressed by bouncing back from an opening-game trouncing with a spirited three-win run.

The Forest Hills crew reached last week's PONY Baseball Bronco Division World Series by sweeping the South Zone title the previous weekend, but the 12-year-olds' first national game was a doozy: Corona, Calif., beat the Florida crew 2-0 behind Josh Romanski's no-hitter.

Danny Martinez, one of Forest Hills' coaches, said his team can hit fastballs like crazy, but had trouble with Romanski, a diminutive left-hander with a tricky off-speed curveball. Romanski struck out 12 batters, and his team cranked out six hits in the Aug. 5 contest. Corona got the winning margin in the fourth inning on a two-run homer by Tyler Fontillia.

Some teams might have folded mentally after such an opening-game whipping, but the Forest Hills boys responded powerfully in the losers' bracket.

On Aug. 7, Forest Hills crushed Carmel, Calif., 8-1. Daniel Martinez (Danny Martinez's son) went 3-for-3 and scored three runs, while John Collazo pitched a complete seven-inning game. Both teams had nine hits, but Forest Hills' strong defense won the day. Coach Martinez said the series' announcers called his team's defense the best of the series.

Next up was Wilmington, Ill., which had lost just 3-2 the previous night to eventual series champion Tai-Tong, Taiwan. But Forest Hills rolled 6-2 as Bradley Clark allowed just five hits in a complete-game performance. The Florida crew was down 2-0 when Clark closed the gap with a solo homer, and Clark later showed his resilience after being nailed in the chest by a hard line drive.

"You could hear it hit hard, like a thud," coach Martinez said. "I went out and expected to find a kid writhing in pain, but he sat up and was chewing bubble gum. ... I asked him if he wanted to come out and (he) gave me this look like I was a Martian. He said, "I'm pitching.' "

Carlos De La Paz Jr. added a three-run homer to seal the win for Forest Hills, which advanced to an early-evening game against Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

The Bayamon team punched out five runs in the top of the first inning to put the Florida crew on its heels. But Forest Hills scored a pair in the bottom of the inning and steadily closed the gap from there to trail just 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh.

Forest Hills loaded the bases with two outs. The pitcher got two quick strikes on Braulio Pardo, but worked the count up to 3-2, then walked Pardo for the tying run.

With Cedric Harris on the mound, the Florida team held Bayamon scoreless in the top of the eighth. In the bottom, Daniel Martinez punched a one-out double and reached third on a scoring error. Dwayne Bailey drove a fly ball deep to centerfield, scoring Martinez on the sacrifice.

"Our kids were rolling on the field, just ecstatic," coach Martinez said. "And then (officials) told us we had 30 minutes (until we had) to play Taiwan."

The tired Forest Hills crew _ much of its pitching spent _ couldn't put up much of a fight against Tai-Tong, which cranked out nine hits for a 7-2 victory. Tai-Tong went on to crush Corona 9-1 and 5-0 in subsequent games to win the series title. Forest Hills' only losses were to the tournament finalists.

"This was a dream come true for these kids, to have the opportunity to go to the highest level of youth baseball at their age group," coach Martinez said. "It's a tribute to each one of them. They're all overachievers, excellent baseball players, motivated young men that deserved everything they got."

Also representing Forest Hills in the World Series were Michael Alvarez, Michael Austin, Matt Bakos, Michael Martinez, Cody Overby, Ryan Rigau, Jared Stephenson and Brian Swanick. The manager was Nelson Martinez, with additional coaches Robert Austin and Braulio Pardo.