Joey Jarneski did not think he’d get to pitch in the Pony League World Series championship game Wednesday night.
In the sixth inning of Hilo, Hawaii’s win over Chesterfield County Tuesday, Jarneski was struck in the left eye with a baseball when an errant throw hit him during a rundown between third base and home plate. Jarneski scored on the play, but he had blurred vision and was rushed to the hospital.
After Hilo clinched a spot in the title game, Jarneski’s father and manager, Stacey, called the victory “bittersweet” with his son’s status unknown.
Fortunately for Hilo, the swelling around the eye decreased, Joey’s sight returned and his play as not affected. Jarneski hit a home run, had three RBI and struck out 11 batters as Hilo defeated Chinese Taipei, 5-3, at Lew Hays Pony Field to win the title.
It is the first World Series championship for Hawaii since Maui won the tournament in 1980, when it was held in Davenport, Iowa. Hilo is the first team to go undefeated in the tournament since Long Beach, Calif., in 2012, and the first Hawaiian team to win the tournament in Washington since Honolulu in 1969.
“I was scared I wouldn’t be able to play in this game,” Jarneski said with a swollen, bloodshot eye. “It felt good to help my team out. I liked hitting that home run and pitching just as much because they helped us win this game. My eye is still swollen with some cuts, but I can see fine.”
Chinese Taipei left-handed pitcher Chu Yi Sheng took the mound, and for the second straight game his fastball was erratic and his curveball hung in the strike zone. He started strong by inducing a ground ball to start the game, but on the third pitch of the following at-bat Jarneski hit a curveball over the scoreboard in right field for a solo home run and a 1-0 Hilo lead.
Shortstop Jaisten Cabatbat followed with a double down the left-field line and second baseman Traiden Tamiya hit a fly ball to right field that was caught. Cabatbat tagged and advanced to third base with the throw from right field going past Chinese Taipei third baseman Lin Chun En for an error, allowing Cabatbat to score.
Hilo first baseman Eric Riveira hit the third pitch of the next at-bat over the left-field fence for a 3-0 lead. Chu, who dazzled in his World Series debut with 11 strikeouts in a win Saturday over Puerto Rico, was taken out of the game after just 18 pitches.
Jarneski tossed his second complete game of the tournament while allowing five hits.
“We waited for the CT scan at the hospital and left at 2 a.m.,” Hilo manager Stacey Jarneski said. “He said his eye was fine and he could see everything. To be honest, it could be swollen shut and he’d say the same thing. I know how much he wanted to play in this game.”
The right-hander did more than just play. Jarneski hit a two-run double over the head of Chinese Taipei center fielder Lee Wei in the second inning to send Hilo’s dugout into a frenzy and give the West Zone champions a 5-0 lead.
Jarneski retired eight of nine batters from the first to the fourth innings, until Chiense Taipei scored one run in the fourth on a RBI single by Lin. The Asia-Pacific Zone champions started to rally in the sixth on an opposite-field two-run homer by left-handed hitting first baseman Yeh Chao Yu, his first of the tournament.
Stacey Jarneski made a mound visit to talk to his son about his pitch sequence. Chinese Taipei began to guess which pitches were being thrown, so Hilo switched things up.
Jarneski responded by retiring six of his next seven batters to clinch the World Series win.
“My team was nervous,” Chinese Taipei manager Huang Wei Chi said. “I’m proud of what they did. We didn’t give up and came back with three runs.”
Chinese Taipei had plenty of opportunities. They stranded three runners in scoring position and failed to strike when Jarneski was struggling to find the strike zone. Jarneski’s performance helped his father finish his coaching career on a high note and bring the Big Island its first Pony League World Series title.
“No one thought we’d make it this far,” Stacey Jarneski said. “I’m never coaching again. How could I top this?”