Washington County team prepares for Pony League World Series

Washington County team out to bring the area its first Pony League World Series championship since 1955.

The Washington County team will begin play in the Pony league World Series Saturday against The Netherlands. Team mbers include, front row, from left: Ben Siller, Brent Kurtz, Mekos Mantalis, Brandon Adams and Jarrod West. Back row: Anthony Andy, Justin Naylor, Forrest Havanis, Blake Stanton, Connor McMahon, Nick Popielarczyk, Zane Freund, Ben Hardy, Chad Johnson and Eric Cole. The Pony League World Series begins with a doubleheader and opening ceremonies Friday night at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park.

Manager Scott Downer knows his Washington County team has an uphill battle in the Pony League World Series.

The host team will go up against a field of nine of the best Pony League baseball teams in the world, some representing large cities. Comparably, the Washington County team drew its 15 players from two organizations: Washington Youth Baseball and Canon-Mac Youth Baseball. Together, the organizations comprise the Founders League, which is the host team for the world series.

“I still believe we can compete. If everything falls right and we catch teams after they use their one pitcher, anything can happen,” said Downer. “Do I think we can win? I do. I think we can compete with anyone there.”

Washington has hosted 53 of the 64 Pony League World Series, a national tournament for 13- and 14-year-olds.

As the host team, Washington County has an automatic berth to the tournament. The Pony League World Series begins Friday at Lew Hays Pony Field at Washington Park. First pitch for Washington County’s first-round game against The Netherlands will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The Netherlands won the European Zone championship.

“Come Aug. 11 through Aug. 16, we’re going to give it our best,” Downer said. “We’re going to go compete against some of the best players in the world.”

The last time the host team won the Pony League World Series was when the Washington team did it in 1955. The only other world series winner from Washington County was Monongahela in 1954.

In his first year coaching the Washington County All-Stars, Downer, who teaches baseball lessons for a living, said he’s excited about the opportunity.

“Growing up around this area, the Pony League World Series is a big thing,” Downer said. “I know a lot of the kids who are involved. When they approached me about doing it, it was a pretty easy decision.”

Downer pitched and player third base for the University of Pittsburgh then coached in college for the next 10 years at Pitt, Duquesne and CCAC-Allegheny.

Both the Washington and Canon-Mac leagues sent its best players to a tryout for the world series team, and from the group of 30 available players, 15 were selected. Eight of the players are from Canonsburg and seven are from Washington.

Since the team was chosen in mid-June, it has regularly been practicing and playing in tournaments to prepare for the Pony League World Series. It recently won the title at the Tournament of Champions in Charleston, W.Va., going 5-0 and outscoring its opponents 59-9. Anthony Andy went 7-for-9 to lead the offense and Ben Siller was 5-for-7 with four doubles. Andy, Justin Naylor, Jarrod West, Chad Johnson and Nick Popielarczyk each had wins on the mound.

Downer said bringing the players together from different leagues to create one team has had its challenges.

“I think they’re finally starting to come together,” Downer said. “It’s not the easiest, and that’s the hardest thing to try and convince them of. You’re bringing kids from two different organizations and they played against each other their entire lives. But now they’re coming together.”

Downer said the team’s practices have revolved around situational baseball.

“That’s the one thing we’ve lacked in the games and tournaments we have played,” Downer said. “Just knowing the situation, how to react and understanding what to do with the baseball before it’s hit.”

Another area Downer said the players have worked to improve is hitting higher velocity pitches. They’ve gone indoors and hit off hard-throwing machines. Heading into the world series, the velocity expected from opposing pitchers will likely be faster than what the players have seen this season.

Downer said his roster is filled with versatile players. He also said the team has two pitchers who he believes can lead the team come tournament time. Popielarczyk and Johnson lead a pitching staff Downer characterized as “very deep.”