For most of Washington County’s summer season, Mekos Mantalis hasn’t been hitting well.
Game 6 – Covina, Calif. vs. Washington County, noon
Game 7 – Levittown, Puerto Rico vs. Youngstown, Ohio, 2:30 p.m.
Game 8 – Brownsville, Texas vs. Netherlands, 5 p.m.
He told manager Scott Downer Friday during batting practice that he was going to break out of his slump in the Pony League World Series.
“Coach, I know I haven’t really hit for you so far this year,” Mantalis said Friday. “I’m going to do everything I can to come out of my slump.”
Mantalis did just that Saturday, going 2-for-4 with a three-run home run and four RBI to lead Washington County to a 9-2 first-round win over the Netherlands at Lew Hays Pony Field.
“That’s going to have to go down as the greatest experience of my life,” Mantalis said. “(That was) some energy I’ll never get to see again. I’m just so grateful that my team was able to pull out the win there.”
Similar to Mantalis, the host team broke out of a Pony League World Series slump of its own.
The host team was 0-6 in its last six world series games, and it had not won a first-round game since 2014.
Washington County, which gets an automatic bid to the world series as the host team, now looks to to win a second game today at noon against Covina, Calif. The host team hasn’t won two games at the world series since 2006.
“I think we can win the whole thing,” Downer said. “I think we have that kind of talent. If we play our game, I think we can win every game here.”
For Downer, who grew up in the area, the win is even more special.
“The Pony League World Series is something I used to do with my father,” Downer said. “This is actually my first time back since he passed away four years ago. Someone was looking over me.”
The game started off shaky for Washington County, which consists of seven players from Washington and eight from Canonsburg.
In the first inning, the Netherlands, which is in its first Pony League World Series appearance as the European Zone champion, scored an unearned run on a Nick Boxelaar groundout.
Washington County responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Nick Popielarczyk and Chad Johnson hit back-to-back, one-out singles before coming around to score. Connor McMahon singled in Popielarczyk, and Johnson scored on a wild pitch.
In the third inning, the Netherlands’ Emile Haswell grounded out to score Vincent Mevissen and tie the score at 2-2.
Popielarczyk, Washington County’s starting pitcher, threw a scoreless fourth inning to end his day and earn the victory. The lefty allowed two runs (one earned) and four hits in four innings. He struck out five and walked one.
Downer then chose Justin Naylor, another lefty, to relieve Popielarczyk. Naylor earned a three-inning save, allowing no runs and allowed only one hit.
“I noticed the Netherlands really was having trouble with the fastball,” Downer said. “I thought they would struggle with someone throwing even harder. Naylor was not my plan going into the game, to be the second guy on the mound, but he probably throws the hardest on the team. He came in and did exactly what I wanted him to do.”
In the fourth inning, Washington County smacked four hits to retake the lead.
Brandon Adams led off the inning with a double, and Mantalis singled to score him. After Jarrod West placed a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single, Popielarczyk, who went 2-for-2 with a walk, singled to load the bases. Johnson then got hit by a pitch to score Mantalis to take a 4-2 lead.
The host team then broke the game open in the fifth, scoring five runs on six hits.
McMahon, who went 3-for-4, singled to start the inning. Adams, who went 2-for-3 with a stolen base, followed with a single before Mantalis’ home run to left field. Ben Siller then singled, and Justin Naylor doubled to score him. To finish the scoring, Johnson, who went 2-for-3 with two RBI, singled to score Naylor, increasing Washington County’s lead to 9-2.
Washington County outhit the Netherlands 15-5 with nine different batters contributing to the total.
“They simply outhit us. Fifteen hits against our five. That’s not good,” said the Netherlands manager Peter Herkemij. “When we were in two strikes, we gave them something right up their sweet spot. That happened a couple of times. We couldn’t get to the corners.”
The Netherlands will play the Brownsville, Texas, in an elimination game Sunday at 5 p.m. Washington County plays West Zone Champion, Covina, Calif., at noon.
The host team last won the Pony League World Series in 1955, when Washington defeated Youngstown, Ohio, for the title. … The Netherlands’ Raydley Legito finished third in the Fastest Runner Competition, which took place Friday morning before tournament play began. … To reach the Pony League World Series, the Netherlands defeated teams from Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia and Poland to win the European Zone championship. … The Netherlands’ 16U team won the Colt World Series last week in Lafayette, Ind.