Survive and Advance: La Jolla Youth Baseball sends eight teams to PONY Tournament


By Tom Murphy

La Jolla Youth Baseball

La Jolla Youth Baseball sent eight All Star teams to the PONY Section tournament that started on June 22. PONY is an acronym for Protect Our Nations Youth and is a brand of international youth baseball similar to Little League, but more closely follows MLB rules as they relate to pitching, base running and other advanced elements of the game. PONY also plays tournaments into a World Series format, but they play in different cities each year and there is a separate tournament for each age division: Shetland, Pinto-7, Pinto-8, Mustang-9, Mustang-10, Bronco-11, Bronco-12, Pony-13, Pony-14, Colt (15-16) and Palomino (17-18).

PONY All Star teams advance from Section to Region, Super Region, Zone and World Series. The top three or four teams in each tournament typically advance to the next level. The “Survive and Advance” mentality is for a team that may lose a game and battle through the losers’ bracket of the double- elimination format, possibly earning a berth in the semi-finals and advancing to the next tournament.

LJYB has had Bronco and Pony teams advance to Zone a few seasons ago, and the Shetland teams qualified for the World Series tourney the last two years. Success in PONY All Stars makes for a long summer of baseball!

La Jolla’s Pony team was one of the first to survive and advance. After a surprising 3-1 loss to Alpine in the opening round in Ramona, the boys battled through the losers bracket with successive wins against Emerald (4-1), Tecolote (13-5) and Ramona (14-8). They made it to the finals where they faced an undefeated Chula Vista South, and had to beat them twice for the title.

Casey Mariucci and Reed Farley pitched great games for La Jolla. They won the first game 5-4 and ran out of gas in the double- header, losing the championship game 12-4. Tate Samuelson hit three successive home runs in one game against Chula Vista. Carson Greene and Ben Wintringer combined their clutch hitting to take the team into extra innings and a come-from-behind win. Led by manager Steve Mariucci, LJ’s Pony team advances to the Regional tourney against Vista on July 11 in Chula Vista.

The Bronco Red team also enjoyed some success in the Section tournament in Ramona, where most games were played in 100-degree weather. They opened with a tough 8-0 loss to Chula Vista South, the eventual runner-up. Manager Tim Scott rallied the troops starting with a stunning 10-0 perfect game pitched by Michael Campagna against Tecolote Blue in an elimination game. The PONY officials could not recall another perfect game in recent years. Campagna helped his cause with a home run and received additional offensive support from Marco Molina, Marcus Scott, Calvin Hyytinen, Noah Brown and Trevor Ace. Blaise Gimber sealed the deal with a diving catch in right field to make the last out and preserve the perfect game — an ESPN “web gem” for sure.

In the next game, the Bronco boys defeated Emerald 10-7 behind the strong pitching of Austin Schroeder, Blaise Gimber, Alex Monell and Carsten Fehlan to advance to the PONY Regional tourney. Key hits came from Trevor Ace, Cade Kronemeyer, Carsten Fehlan and Alex Monell, who contributed two doubles and four RBIs. La Jolla was knocked out of the tourney by Chula Vista South (again) but Trevor Ace’s towering homer over the right field wall was memorable.

LJYB sent three Mustang teams to Ramona for the Sectionals. Billy Egan managed the Red team, Fritz Ortlieb led the Blue team and Dave Klimkiewicz coached the 9-year old players. Blue led off with a 13-8 loss to Chula Vista Blue and Red dropped their opener to Mira Mesa in a close 8-7 game. As luck would have it, the two LJ teams faced each other in the losers bracket and this game went down to the wire. The underdog Blue team got out to an early lead with solid pitching by Devin Longenecker and Willie Barton, supported by strong hitting from Daniel Dessert and Connor Goldman.

Clutch hitting and fielding by Will Lavelle made the difference in the sixth inning with Red prevailing over their Blue brethren 8-7. Emerald eliminated them in the next round in another 7-6 nail-biter. The Mustang-9 team opened with an exciting 8-7 win over rival Tecolote that went nine innings led Ty Stanley’s five innings on the hill. Connor Hobbs scored the winning run on a dropped third strike that failed to convert at first base.

Next was a 23-6 blowout against Mira Mesa that was shortened by the mercy rule. They were knocked out of the winners bracket in a tight 8-6 game versus North City featuring tough pitching by Nathan Latimer, Ty Stanley and Tony Ide.

They bounced back against Ramona with a resounding 17-7 win that included defensive gems by Spence Carswell and Jake Klimkiewicz. They faced North City again for the championship that went back and forth. Nathan Latimer threw a gutsy complete game that ended in a 5-4 loss with a very close play at the plate in the bottom of the sixth. Coach Klimkiewicz and company advance to Regionals in Carlsbad.

La Jolla’s Pinto division sent Red and Blue teams to the Section tourney in Ramona while the Pinto-7s Regional tournament was played in San Marcos. John Dobak managed the Blue team that opened with an 18-8 loss to Mira Mesa Gold. Manager Mike Solis and his Red team faced the eventual champs in their opening game, losing 15-8 to North City. Big Red got their mojo back against Mira Mesa Blue with a 15-0 win by mercy rule.

Pinto Blue beat Paradise Hills 17-7 to face LJ Pinto Red in an elimination game that ended 15-2 in favor of Red. They continued their march through the losers bracket with wins against Mira Mesa Gold (15-5), Ramona Red (17-11) and Tecolote Red (13-2 by mercy rule). The next day LJ Pinto Red faced the undefeated North City team for the championship and battled back and forth for six innings but came up short 16- 13. Survive and Advance. Pinto-7s faced the host team San Marcos Rattlers and came away with a 13-3 win by mercy to open their tourney. They lost a tight 15-14 game against Carlsbad to drop into the losers bracket. They beat North City-7s 19-17 before being eliminated by Tecolote-7s 13-8. They survive and advance to the Super Region in San Marcos. Kudos to Manager Sam Stahl for leading this young and talented team.

For the third time, La Jolla sent a Shetland team into the Region tournament and for the third time, they advanced to the Super Region tourney in West Covina. LJ Shetland dropped their opening game to Chula Vista South 20-19 in the bottom of the fifth. Down but not out, these tough six-year-old kids won their next three games, beating Mira Mesa (17-7), Fallbrook (15-2), and avenged their loss to Chula Vista in a 15-9 victory. In the semi-final game, LJ Shetland went into extra innings tied at 12 apiece before San Marcos pushed a run across to win the game in dramatic walk-off fashion.

La Jolla’s offense was led by Hank Hansen, Henry Armstrong, Finn Kjos, Will Mullen, Levi Uslander, Cash McKeown, Landon Tu, Dillon Spiro, Christopher Monnell, Logan MacLean, Santino Grasso, Cameron Ouyang, Ryan Popkin and Wyatt Olmert.

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