The Long Beach PONY 14-Under All-Stars won their third tournament of the summer on Sunday to advance to their fifth DICK’S Sporting Goods PONY League World Series in the last 12 years. They won the world title in 2008 and 2012.
Long Beach starts the 10-team tournament against the winner of Washington County and Bronx, New York on Sunday at noon.
Today we caught up with Ken Jakemer, Long Beach PONY President and All-Star manager, to talk about the Long Beach players who made the difference in the West Zone tournament over the weekend when they survived four consecutive elimination games in two days.
The562: Last year, your team missed the Zone tournament for the first time since 2010. What did you expect for your group when you returned to West Hills?
Ken Jakemer: We knew after we won the Super-Region that we would face off against Maui, Hawaii early in the tournament, and we focused on preparing for that game. It wound up being a great back and forth battle, with Maui holding on for the one-run win.
The562: That was the second game of the tournament, and your team’s first loss in 10 tournament games this summer. How did they take it?
KJ: We were pretty down, knowing we had to come back and beat Maui twice to advance to the finals. But after a good night’s sleep, the boys came out confident and ready to get back on the field. I knew then, that day was going to be special.
The 562: You also knew you were going to need some clutch pitching performances with the pitch counts at a premium, right?
KJ: Yes, and our second matchup with Maui was a beautiful pitcher’s duel, with both pitchers dominating early. Myles Patton threw a fantastic game in the pressure-cooker environment. He had great command, throwing almost 70% strikes, and mixed his pitches well. When the offense grabbed the lead on singles by Ryan Skjonsby and Robert Voss in the sixth inning, it was time to close it out, and Jake Ehmann and Adam Cramer finished the job.
The562: So that obviously got you back on track, but you were still facing elimination against Orem, Utah in the next game. Who stepped up for you?
KJ: That game had me a little concerned as the potential big let-down loomed overhead. We got down by a run early, but Izzy Santillan decided to take over. He was dominant on the mound with a six-inning, 74-pitch complete game. At the plate he went 4-for-5 with four RBIs. He was the man!
The562: The win set up a third rubber-match game with Maui on Sunday morning. Did the game feel as big as it ended up being?
KJ: It was full of emotion with roller-coaster ups and downs. The parents were going crazy on both sides, and it was high intensity at a level I have never experienced before. When we jumped out to an 8-1 lead after four innings, we knew we were not safe yet. The Hawaiians were an extremely good team, and would not give up.
The562: You’re right. The kids from Maui ended up hitting four home runs, three in a row, in the fifth inning to take a 10-8. How did you bounce back?
KJ: We were very lucky to have Charlie Royle available to stop the bleeding. He got two outs and end the Maui momentum for a brief minute, but our offense went down 1-2-3 to give it right back. Charlie went back out to the mound and made quick work of the bottom of their order to keep us close.
Charlie led off the top of the 7th, and had an epic battle while working a 10-pitch walk. “Steady” Sam DeCarlo worked the pitcher too, and got an eight-pitch walk to bring up the top of the order. We were starting to get excited.
When they walked Ryan Geck to load the bases, I knew Brendan Wilkinson was going to be ready. He is such a warrior, and was so beaten down by catching in the 107 degree heat, but he drove an 0-2 single to left field that scored two to tie the game.
The line kept moving, and Myles Patton’s hit put two runners on base with two outs. Ryan Skjonsby came up I was hopeful he would connect with one. On a 3-1 pitch, he drove a three-run home run over the fence in right field to give us a three-run cushion, 13-10.
The562: Your second straight elimination-game victory set up a Zone championship game with Tecolote on Sunday afternoon. Were the boys worn down after the long game with Hawaii in the morning?
KJ: It was a challenge to keep the energy and emotion up. It took us a couple of innings to start to hit the ball, but pitcher Jack Dhein was on his game and was able to control their lineup efficiently. He only threw 68 pitches in his six innings. It was masterful. Then we had Jackson Haberland close the door, and the West Zone Championship was back in Long Beach’s hands.
The562: You’ve managed PONY World Series champions, so you’ve seen the best. What words would you use to describe this 14U All-Star team?
KJ: Inspiring, resilient, amazing, wonderful group of players, fans, and families. It’s such an honor to be able to lead these young men back to the World Series. They don’t know what excitement awaits them next week. But I do, and I’m very excited for each and every one of them. These will be lifelong memories.
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