Hilo, Hawaii’s players have not seen home in 15 days. And as it entered the 10-team Pony League World Series, Hilo tried to do the improbable.
Hilo is just the third Hawaiian team to win the West Zone and advance to the World Series in Washington. A Hawaiian team has not won the title since Honolulu accomplished the feat in 1969.
Hilo is one step closer to taking a second title home to Hawaii.
The West Zone champions scored four runs on wild pitches and pitcher Ryan Ragual had three hits as Hilo defeated Chesterfield County, Va., 11-2, late Tuesday night at Lew Hays Pony Field.
Hilo will face either Chinese Taipei or Levittown, Puerto Rico, in tonight’s championship game. First pitch for the title game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. It will be televised by WPCW.
“It was great to come out and get the win,” Ragual said. “I was nervous at first because it was my first game pitching in the series, but I settled down. It’s fun coming out here and getting a win.”
Hilo led by one run in the top of the fourth inning when Chesterfield’s defense faltered. Ragual, who was 3-for-3 with an RBI and four runs, led off with a single and advanced to second on a errant pick-off throw by Chesterfield pitcher Ryan Clawson.
An infield single by left fielder Kahale Huddleston Jr. advanced Ragual to third base, and a sacrifice fly by catcher Dallas Duarte gave Hilo a 4-2 lead. Shortstop Joey Jarneski singled and advanced to second on a stolen base, putting two runners in scoring position.
Hilo third baseman Jaisten Cabatbat came to the plate, and on a 2-0 count, Clawson threw a wild pitch. Huddleston Jr. scored from third as Chesterfield County catcher Barkley Ray collected the ball at the backstop and threw to Clawson at home plate, but the throw went past Clawson.
Jarneski alertly scored from third base as Hilo took a 6-2 lead.
Hilo added three more runs in the sixth inning, two of which came on a wild pitch, and two in the seventh on a throwing error to remain undefeated and clinch its berth in the title game.
“(Ragual) is usually our second or third starter because of his split-finger fastball and he did well tonight,” Hilo manager Stacey Jarneski said. “I could tell the crowd got to him a bit at first, but he settled down and locked in.”
Chesterfield County committed eight errors.
The first time Hilo and Chesterfield County met, both teams failed to generate much offense with starting pitchers dictating the pace of the game. Hilo won that matchup 4-1 and Chesterfield County’s offense had looked impressive since the defeat.
“We took advantage of their mistakes,” Ragual said. “It’s been a great summer for us and I’m glad it’s going to continue.”
Tuesday night’s rematch was the complete opposite. As both teams were without their top starting pitchers, the humid night looked more like a batting practice for the first two innings.
Chesterfield struck first in the bottom of the first inning when first baseman Ethan Williams hit a RBI single to center field for a 1-0 lead.
Hilo first baseman Eric Riveira hit a leadoff single in the second and advanced on a sacrifice bunt. Center fielder Micah Bello and Ragual followed with back-to-back run-scoring doubles. Huddleston Jr. reached on an error, and two batters later a wild pitch scored Ragual from third for a 3-1 Hilo lead.
Chesterfield answered in the bottom half of the inning when two singles and an error loaded the bases. One run scored on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Tyler Butler, but Ragual recorded two outs to end the threat and strand three Chesterfield runners on base.
Hilo now waits to to find out who its plays in the championship game, either Chinese Taipei or Puerto Rico.
“Both are tough opponents,” Jarneski said. “Chinese Taipei is incredibly disciplined and Puerto Rico has some big bats. Both have exceptional pitchers. Either way, we’re going to have a great team to play.”