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Russians Back at U.S. Little League

August 17, 2002

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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ Kirill Chermoshentsev watched as a ball he hit during practice soared over the outfield fence. Another fell at the warning track. A third rang off the chain-link fence.

Chermoshentsev, the star pitcher and shortstop for Khovrino Little League of Moscow, didn’t hit like that when he was here last year. Neither did the rest of his teammates.

A year after making their Little League World Series debut, the Russians are back, a little crisper at the bat and better prepared for international competition. Russia opens the series Saturday night against Sendai, Japan.

``I think we’re hitting the ball better this year,″ manager Vladimir Eltchaninov said. ``We have four kids back this year who were here last year. It really helps to have that experience.″

Last year was the first time a Russian team competed in Little League’s international tournament. The Khovrino team surprised the field _ and themselves _ by winning the European Region tournament, qualifying for the Little League World Series.

``I think last year they didn’t really expect it,″ said Beata Kaszuba, Little League’s Europe Region director. ``They came here really loose, not really focused. This year, the kids are very disciplined. You can see they have that focus and they want to improve on last year.″

There’s room for improvement. Last year, the Russians scored just one run in three games, all losses. Part of that was a simple talent differential _ many of the Russians played baseball for a couple years.

But Eltchaninov said his players were simply awe-struck by the well-manicured fields, the large crowds and the media attention. Having four veterans back will change that.

``We want to keep playing,″ said Alexey Kobrinets, back for his second series. ``We are happy to be here, but this time we want to get to the quarterfinals. To do that, we have to win.″

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