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Grounded Fort Hamilton, continuing to progress, shuts out Madison

There was no wild celebration. No hugging. A couple of high fives was as jubilant as it would get.

The Fort Hamilton baseball team had just shutout Madison, last year’s PSAL Class A city runner-up, in a 1-0 victory to run its record in Brooklyn A East to an impressive 8-0. It seemed to call for an over-the-top reaction.

Al Casciani, the Tigers’ coach, explained the post-game celebration – or lack thereof – rather succinctly.

“Six and 10,” he said, referring to the Brooklyn school’s disappointing record last spring. Last year, Fort Hamilton failed to make the playoffs, snapping a six-year string of consecutive postseason appearances.

Casciani has used that as a form of motivation, making sure his team remains grounded. Whether they have a big lead or are hanging on for dear life, he tells the Tigers to attack each at-bat, pitch or ground ball like there is no score.

“We can’t be satisfied,” he said.

There was little breathing room against Madison. The game was scoreless until sophomore outfielder Franciel Campusano drove in sophomore second baseman Johnny Faison Jr. with a run-scoring groundout in the bottom of the third inning.

Right-hander Charlie Solano did the rest. He threw six dominant innings, allowing just two hits, no walks and striking out six. Closer Robert Waters pitched around two walks in the seventh for his third save.

Madison did have its chances, especially early. In the second, Salino, making just his third start of the season after breaking the fifth metacarpal on his pitching hand, stranded a runner at third by striking out Michael Taverna. In the third, with runners on first and second and two outs, Knights right-hander Eddie Lenahan fisted a fastball into shallow right field that looked to put Madison on the board.

Instead, right fielder Franklyn Perez, another sophomore, charged the ball and threw out Lenahan, ending the threat.

“My first instinct was to go to first,” Perez said.

Salino got better as the game went on. He pitched around shortstop Luis Sanchez’s error in the fourth, struck out the side in the fifth and sent Madison down in order in the sixth. Still, Casciani pulled him in favor of Waters after the senior had thrown 86 pitches. As Watters temporarily lost the strike zone, Salino nervously fidgeted on the bench, playing with his belt and gazing at the sky. When junior outfielder Joseph Calascione lined out to Sanchez, he exhaled.

“It was very nerve-wracking for me,” Salino said. “I wanted that game, it was my game, but it turned out perfect.”

The same could be said for Fort Hamilton’s season up to this point. Lacking an explosive offense, the Tigers have taken advantage of the wooden bat era by relying on defense and the pitching of Salino, Campuzano and Perez.

“Our team really came together this year,” Salino said. “We have a lot of chemistry. Nobody is selfish.”

Casciani admitted to being surprised at the flawless record, particularly in the play of his youngest players. Not that Fort Hamilton is a middling program, but they aren’t used to looking down at the rest of the borough.

Of course, the coach didn’t share those feeling with his players. He won’t be happy unless they win every league game.

He wasn’t ready to call his team Brooklyn’s best, either, even if it did top perennial power Madison, which knocked off Telecommunications, a game behind Midwood in Brooklyn A West, last week.

Perez, his talkative right fielder, however, had no problem with such a proclamation.

“Right now,” he smiled, “I could say, yes, we’re the best team in Brooklyn.”

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