Softball: Naftali Schwartz powers Aztek to title

softball guys 298 (photo credit: Jay L. Abramoff)
softball guys 298
(photo credit: Jay L. Abramoff)
Aztek waited for this moment for a long time. Runner-up to Rise-Hi in the amateur softball in Israel series the past two seasons and rivals for years, Aztek had two scoring bursts and then held on to beat the defending champions 12-10 in the 2006 final at Kibbutz Gezer on Monday night. Aztek, which entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed behind Rise-Hi and the Beit Shemesh Suns, was the only team to defeat both higher seeds in the regular season and then had to beat both of them again in the postseason in order to claim the title. Over the first four innings, Aztek gave up only two unearned runs on three hits and a walk, as starting pitcher Fred Moncharsh baffled most of the Rise-Hi hitters and the defense was sharp when called upon. In the top of the third inning, after Aztek's Mike Barth drove in captain David Gilor and Ariel Gilor with a single, Naftali Schwartz hit the first of his three straight towering home runs. Aztek scored a total of seven runs in the third to take a 7-1 lead, and it got all but one of its other runs in the fifth. After Schwartz hit his second home run, Aztek got four consecutive hits: a two-run homer by Noam Zwilling, a double by Dave Epstein, a bunt single by Zevie Klaristenfeld and an RBI single by David Gilor. Rise-Hi began to score in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Danny Gewirtz relieved Moncharsh and got the next three batters out. Gewirtz gave up a sacrifice fly, but the rally ended when catcher Chaim Baldasare threw out a Rise-Hi runner attempting to steal second. Aztek went up to bat in the top of the sixth inning with a five-run lead (11-6), and Schwartz extended the lead to six runs with his third homer. Gewirtz faced only four Rise-Hi batters in the bottom of the sixth and ended the inning without giving up any runs by combining with first baseman Jeff Weiner for the third out. Aztek was not able to get any more insurance runs in the top of the seventh, and Rise-Hi mounted a comeback in its final at-bat. After the defending champions put runners at the corners, left fielder Alan Tover caught a screaming line drive for the first out, but the next four Rise-Hi batters reached base and the deficit was cut to three (12-9). With the bases loaded, one out and the winning run at bat, Aztek came up with a double play. David Gilor batted down a ground ball hit up the middle, Schwartz picked it up with his foot on second and then threw home, where Baldasare tagged out a charging Rise-Hi runner, who did not attempt a slide trying to score a meaningless run from third. Even though Baldasare suffered two hamstring strains throughout the night and Avi Schlossberg was ready to take his place, the Aztek catcher decided to stay in the game. After the first inning, Aztek was 8-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left only three runners on base. Schwartz earned the MVP award with his three homers and solid play at shortstop, while Ariel Gilor, Noam Zwilling and David Gilor each had two hits.