During the home run derby portion of the skills competition that opened the Pony League World Series last Friday, Chinese Taipei outfielder Sun Yi Lei was emotionless. As he hit several long home runs that landed near an auxiliary road on a hillside beyond the right-field fence, Sun never watched the baseballs leave Lew Hays Pony Field. He simply looked at the pitcher’s mound and prepared for the next offering.
Sun, however, couldn’t display the same icy demeanor Wednesday night against Youngstown, Ohio.
Sun, a lefty hitter, belted a tiebreaking solo homer with one out in the top of the seventh inning that gave Chinese Taipei a 5-4 victory and a spot in tonight’s championship game.
As the baseball soared over the fence, to the left of the scoreboard, Sun watched it, flipped his bat into the air and pumped his fist above his head.
“I knew it was gone when I hit it,” Sun said through a translator. “I was looking for a fastball and got one.”
The home run came on the first pitch of the at-bat and off Youngstown reliever Stephen Tarnoci. It was one of only two hits he allowed in 21/3 innings.
Chinese Taipei had only four hits in the game off Tarnoci and Youngstown starter Anthony Miller, but the Asia-Pacific Zone champion was able to produce enough offense to erase deficits of 2-1 and 4-2.
“To me, that game was for the Pony League World Series championship,” Youngstown manager Scott Ruark said. “Those are the two best teams in the field, no doubt about it.”
The win sends Chinese Taipei into tonight’s 7 p.m. championship game against either Bay County, Mich., or Simi Valley, Calif.
In the double-elimination division play, Youngstown lost twice to Chinese Taipei, including 8-1 Monday night. Youngstown never led in that game, but in the rematch it was Chinese Taipei that had to play from behind for most of the evening.
A throwing error in the top of the first led to an unearned run for Chinese Taipei, but Youngstown took a 2-1 lead in the second. Dom Fornataro hit a one-out double off the fence in right centerfield and moved up on a groundout. After Nick Leasure walked, Luca Bertolasio hit a grounder that went under the glove of the Chinese Taipei shortstop and allowed Fornataro to score. Miller followed with a run-scoring single up the middle that gave Youngstown a 2-1 advantage. It was the first time Taipei trailed in three World Series games.
“We were ready,” Ruark said. “In the first game against them, we did some some things wrong and weren’t able to make a push at the end. This time, we had them where we wanted them.”
Taipei tied it at 2-2 in the third as Tseng Yi Wei drew a one-out walk, stole second base and scored on two wild pitches. Chinese Taipei stole 10 bases (11 attempts) in the game and has 26 in the series.
Jarrod Malagise led off the bottom of the third with a single and his twin brother, Anthony Malagise, followed with a two-run homer down the left-field line that gave Youngstown the momentum and a 4-2 lead.
Youngstown, however, would have only three more hits after Malagise’s home run, and just one after the third inning. Youngstown left two runners on base in each of the first three innings.
“We just needed a big two-out hit,” Ruark said. “I thought we were going to get one when we had the two-run inning but that offensive explosion never happened.”
Chang Yuan Kai, a hard-throwing and sidearming righthander, threw four shutout innings of relief, striking out five.
“He gave us a lot of trouble. He was tough, especially on righthanders,” Ruark said. “He could throw hard enough to get it past you and also had a nice curveball.”
Chinese Taipei pulled to within 4-3 in the fourth on a walk to Hsu Shad Yu, two stolen bases by pinch-runner Hu Jui Hsun and an RBI single by Liu Chen Wei.
Miller, who threw five shutout innings in Youngstown’s win over Guasave, Mexico, on opening night, left after 4 2/3 innings. He allowed only two hits and struck out six.
Taipei tied the score at 4-4 in the sixth, scoring without the benefit of a hit. Hu Jui Hsun drew a leadoff walk and pinch-runner Lin Po Yu stole second base. With one out, Chang hit a chopper up the first-base line that Tarnoci and first baseman Braeden D’Angelo each charged. Tarnoci fielded the ball and beat Chang to first base for the inning’s second out. However, Lin never stopped running from second base on the play and beat the throw back to home plate, tyign the score.
“I had a good feeling going into the seventh inning. I liked where we were in our lineup. Our Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters are very good,” Chinese Taipei manager Chen Yi Sung said.