After 16 games, about 100 pitching changes, one perfect game by a pitcher, a change in the length of games and a month’s worth of rain dumped into one week, the Pony League World Series is down to two teams.
Chinese Taipei and Long Beach, Calif., the only undefeated teams in the double-elimination tournament, secured spots in tonight’s (7:30 p.m.) championship game with victories in winners’ bracket finals, the last two contests in the six-game marathon session Tuesday at Lew Hays Pony Field.
Chinese Taipei was the first to reach the title game. The Asia-Pacific Zone champion erased a deficit by scoring four runs in the final inning and held on for a 5-3 victory over Yaguate, Dominican Republic.
Long Beach followed with a walkoff victory, beating Brownsville, Texas, 6-5. Ryan Skjonsby raced home from third base on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Sam DeCarlo in the bottom of the fifth inning. Long Beach overcame an early 4-1 deficit.
Tonight’s championship game is set for 7:30 p.m.
All six games Tuesday were shortened to five innings because of the schedule being backlogged after heavy rain hit the area Monday and caused the postponement of two games. That didn’t matter to Chinese Taipei and Yaguate as their game had all the drama of a 15-inning nail-biter packed into five frames. Chinese Taipei trailed 2-0 in the fourth and 2-1 entering the top of the fifth before scoring four times to take a 5-2 lead.
Yaguate, however, didn’t go down without putting up quite a fight in the bottom of the fifth. Cesar Aguasviva hit a solo homer – his fifth home run of the series – with two outs and the game wasn’t decided until Carlos Merejo flied out to right field with the bases loaded.
Chinese Taipei’s Sin Jie Wu, who earlier in the day the day threw the first perfect game in series history against Youngstown, Ohio, was the winning pitcher against Yaguate, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. He allowed one hit and had to be removed with two outs left in the fifth because he reached the 95-pitch limit for one day.
“We really don’t have a strategy for the comeback,” Chinese Taipei manager Chiu Shih Teng said through a translator. “We just wanted the kids to get on base. We told them not to worry about winning or losing, just try to get on base and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened in the fifth was Chinese Taipei scored four runs on only two hits, getting help from two walks (one intentional), a fielder’s choice that didn’t result in an out and an important sacrifice fly.
“Going into the last inning, I felt confident,” Chiu said. “We told the kids not to swing at the high fastball, go for something low in the strike zone.”
Huang Bo Rui found a pitch to his liking and laced a leadoff double in the fifth. Kao Wei Guang followed with a sacrifice bunt that Yaguate fielded and threw late to third base, giving Chinese Taipei two baserunners. After a strikeout, Chen Cheng Yi hit a sacrifice fly to right field with Huang barely beating Erick Hernandez’s strong throw to home plate. The play tied the score at 2-2.
Two walks with two outs, two run-scoring wild pitches and Chen Chiu Teng’s RBI single made it 5-2.
Wu retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth – he allowed only a Hernandez double in the fourth – but reached the pitch-count limit with one out left in the game. It took three Chinese Taipei relievers to get the final out as Yaguate had the potential tying run at second base when the game ended.
Chiu said Chinese Taipei has four pitchers available for the title game.
“And we’ll have all four ready,” he added.
Brownsville forged a 4-1 lead by the third inning but Long Beach scored four times to take a 5-4 lead. The big blow in the Long Beach third was Ryan Geck’s two-run homer to left field.
Ryan Burack’s two-run single on an 0-2 pitch gave the West Zone champions a 5-4 lead.
An RBI single by Brownsville’s Luis Baldera tied it at 5-5 in the fourth.
Sierra Craig, daughter of John and Christy Craig and 8th-grader at Trinity Middle School, was named Pony Princess. … Yaguate’s hard-hitting lineup scored 59 runs in the series, which is one short of the record set in 2003 by Humaco, Puerto Rico.