When Levittown, Puerto Rico, lost by 10 runs to Chinese Taipei Saturday at Lew Hays Pony Field, the Caribbean Zone champions players could not believe they were one mistake away from going home empty-handed.
When the two teams met Tuesday night with Puerto Rico one loss away from elimination, Levittown manager Willie Joe Ronda wanted to throw his ace pitcher, Benjamin Negron.
The strategy worked perfectly.
Negron allowed two runs on four hits in four innings and right fielder Heliot Ramos drove in the eventual game-winning run in the fourth inning as Levittown defeated Chinese Taipei, 4-2, in the Pony League World Series.
The two teams will face each other again today at 10 a.m. for the right to advance to tonight’s championship game.
“We don’t want to go home yet,” Levittown catcher Josue Sanchez said. “We want to win the championship. For us, there is no tomorrow. We are playing every game like it’s our last.”
The game was tied 2-2 entering the fourth, when Levittown left fielder Jean Paul Santana was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Chinese Taipei recorded two outs before Sanchez singled and Ramos followed by fighting off an inside fastball for an RBI single to right field.
Levittown added one more run in the top of the sixth on a single by Sanchez, and relief pitcher Jan Figueroa shut down Chinese Taipei in the sixth and seventh innings to clinch the victory.
“My team competed great,” Ronda said. “They were excited waiting for this game. The effort was perfect and we hit the ball well against their toughest pitcher. He was great, but we did well on offense to beat them.”
Levittown applied that pressure in its first game of the day against Bay County, Mich., with a 10-2 win. They barely held off Chinese Taipei with the help of Negron. The team Asia-Pacific Zone champion took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a RBI double by first baseman Yeh Chao Yu and Levittown answered one inning later.
Puerto Rico loaded the bases on three singles before Chinese Taipei pitcher Chu Yi Sheng struck out two hitters. Levittown second baseman Ryan Rivera came to the plate with two outs and struck out on a 1-2 curveball, but the Chinese Taipei catcher could not handle the pitch in the dirt, allowing the runner to score from third base to tie the game.
The two teams exchanged runs in the third inning to keep the score tied. First, Levittown added a run in the top half when Sanchez hit a leadoff double and scored two batters later on a single by Joel Santiago Diaz.
Chinese Taipei answered to tie the score at 2-2 when Yeh hit a one-out single and stole second base. Two batters later, third baseman Lin Chun En hit a run-scoring single to left field. Unfortunately for Chinese Taipei, it stranded two runners in the fifth inning, including one on third base.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Chinese Taipei manager Huang Wei Chih said. “The kids were too nervous. They wanted to win badly. I will tell them to just relax and enjoy tomorrow’s game. Levittown is a very good team.”
Unlike the last meeting, Levittown was able to hit Chu’s devastating curveball. The lefty lasted just three innings and allowed five hits, but did strike out eight. Negron, meanwhile, allowed just one extra-base hit and forced Chinese Taipei to strand six runners.
With a spot in the championship on the line, Ronda feels optimistic after watching his team give Chinese Taipei its best game of the tournament.
“It is the biggest game of the season for these guys,” Ronda said. “It will be tough. We need to score early to build confidence and we know they’ll have a good pitcher, so it will definitely be a great game.”