Leichman
Leichman was overpowering with his curve ball and later his change-up to fan 15 batters while yielding only three walks. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Alon Leichman earned MVP honors by pitching a seven-inning gem and knocking in a pair of RBIs as Modi'in defeated Tel Aviv 7-2 last Thursday to claim the IAB Premier League championship series two games to one.

Modi'in sprinted to a 7-0 lead after three innings, pouncing on Tel Aviv starter Josh Shulman to put the game's final outcome beyond any doubt.

The 21-year-old Leichman, who has been recognized as an athlete by the Israel Defense Forces, held Tel Aviv hitless, striking out 15 and walking three while yielding just one unearned run. Yoni Alter completed the combined no-hitter by closing out the 8th and 9th.

Leichman - who is getting out of the army in November and has been accepted to play baseball at Cypress College in Orange County, California, next year - told AF Sports yesterday, "My curve ball was good in the beginning, and it faded, so I came in with a change-up in the final innings."

Ira Moskowitz, Modi'in's player/coach, called Leichman "the best prospect coming out of Israel," adding that "he has a lot of potential." Dan Rothem, who coaches both Tel Aviv and the national team, called him "one of the most dominant pitchers ever in Israel."

The only jam Leichman got into was in the fifth inning, when he walked a batter with one out. The batter then stole second, so he walked the next to set up a double-play situation. However, the next batter hit a weak ground ball to third, so Modi'in had to settle for a fielder's choice.

"The catcher wanted me to walk again, but it was a good hitter - Amit Kurz," Leichman said. "The plan with two strikes was to come with a fastball high, but it hit the catcher's glove high for a passed ball to the backstop."

Leichman then came back and struck out the final batter of the inning with a curve ball.

Modi'in scored multiple runs in each of the first three frames. So Matsuzawa got a leadoff base hit and scored on Leichman's first double of the game. Ariel Moyal then knocked in Leichman.

In the second inning, David Brief was hit by a pitch, Matsuzawa walked and both scored on Leichman's next double. Leichman was nabbed trying to stretch the hit into a triple, ending Modi'in's scoring threat for the inning.

Yoni Alter singled to open the third for Modi'in, and sloppy play opened the door to three mostly unearned runs. Moyal, Moskowitz and Josh Alter all got bases on errors and scored on various miscues. Tel Aviv's Shulman then closed out the inning by striking out the side, but the damage had been done.

George Chityat then took over the mound duties for Tel Aviv and shut down Modi'in over the next four innings and Boaz Fraiman pitched a perfect eighth in relief. Tel Aviv managed to scratch across a second unearned run in the top of the eighth.

Off to Prague

With the playoffs behind them, the national team players can put their rivalries behind as they prepare to leave Monday for Prague, where they will participate in Prague Baseball Week. "It's an exhibition tournament with no age or roster limit, which makes it very competitive," said coach Rothem.

Most of the teams in Prague will be A pool teams (Israel is currently in Europe's B pool ), Rothem said. Israel will play six games in five days against two Czech teams, a squad from the United States, and the national teams of Croatia, Russia and Austria.

The team is taking a 15-person squad with five starting pitchers, Rothem said. "This is a preparation for us for the B Pool tournament in July 2011."

Three players are coming directly from the States - Shlomo Lipetz, who lives in New York, and Ophir Katz and Guy Stevens, who are both in college. The team also secured the services of a Czech pitcher, because the schedule is demanding, even for major-league teams, Rothem said. The roster will include one other non-Israeli, Mike Morgenstern, who has played in Israel before and is in Israel for the summer.

"We're going thin because our goal is not like other teams, to win the tournament, but to give our guys experience who we believe will be a key part of next summer's team," Rothem said.

"I expect to do pretty well," added MVP Leichman. "Coach [Moskowitz] said I'll pitch the first and last game."

"He'll be pitching on three days rest," Rothem said of Leichman. "That's the plan, at least."