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Citi Field hosts Pitch, Hit & Run finals hopefuls

Winners may get chance to attend national competition during All-Star Week

NEW YORK -- Reilly Guy ran a foot through the deep-red dirt, then set up in the batter's box at Citi Field.

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"Take your time, Reilly!" a man yelled from Section 122, clapping to accentuate his point. "Hit the bleachers!"

Reilly took three twisting swings, but couldn't reach the bleachers. Not that it could be expected of a 4-foot-something girl competing in the 9-10 Division of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run presented by Scotts.

She and 23 other regional competitors descended on Citi Field early Saturday morning in hopes of earning a berth to the National Finals. Each one arrived as a winner, having already placed in the top three of their local and sectional competitions.

"They're champions just for getting this far," event coordinator Matt Engleka told the parents and onlookers that sat along the third base line.

Now it was time to do it again, but with a catch.

Each of MLB's 30 clubs has hosted or will host a Team Championship, in which 24 of its own local winners will compete. The eight winners -- four girls and four boys -- in each of those championships will have their scores pitted against those from across the country. The top three scores in each division advance to the National Finals, held during July's All-Star Week in Cincinnati.

So they came to Citi Field and sat in the visitors' dugout, doing their best to shrug off their parents' pleas for photos.

"One more, bud," a parent begged her son in the dugout. "One more. It's Citi Field. Please?"

First they pitched, given six throws to hit a target. The boys threw baseballs, the girls softballs. All but one threw overhand.

Then they stepped to the plate, taking three swings off a tee. The goal was to hit the ball as far as possible while staying on a straight line drawn from home plate through second base. Most balls ended up near second base, but one -- from eventual 13-14 Boys champion John Kreusch -- landed just a few feet short of the warning track in center field.

Finally, the competitors ran, sprinting from second base to home plate while being timed.

Scores were then tallied, and each competitor was presented with a home plate-shaped plaque. Each division's winner will be honored before Saturday's Mets game. They'll have to wait until June 28 to find out if their score was good enough to advance to Cincinnati.

Clark Gilmore, who finished second to Kreusch in the 13-14 Boys division, is a New York baseball fan from Connecticut. Mets or Yankees, he doesn't care, he said, though he does have a soft spot for Mets center fielder Juan Lagares -- he's a center fielder, too.

"It's so big," Gilmore said of Citi Field. "Unfortunately, I don't get to go out before the game and see all the people, but it was still very, very fun. It's such a nice field."

The day's full winners were Madeline Heffernan (7-8 girls), Kayla Fitzpatrick (9-10 girls), Kylee Holderied (11-12 girls), Stephanie Daly (13-14 girls), Jake Koehler (7-8 boys), Alek Reynolds (9-10 boys), Andrew Cronin (11-12 boys) and Kruesch (13-14 boys).

Alden Woods is an associate reporter for
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