HILO — They hooked up in a classic in 2012, turning the finals of a statewide tournament into an all-Hilo affair.
Now, many of those same players are back, but in separate divisions, giving Hilo at least a pair of title contenders as PONY Baseball holds a smorgasbord at Walter Victor Complex.
In all, there are four state tournaments: the annual Mustang (ages 9-10) and Bronco (11-12) divisions, as well as a pair of odd-year events, Mustang 9s and Pony 13s.
“Hilo teams should be well-represented,” Bronco coach Lenn Miyao said. “All the Big Island teams, they play a lot.”
Few, however, have played as many games together or carry the winning pedigree as Miyao’s club, which includes 10 players from the Andrews Braves, who won this year’s Kona PONY Baseball Memorial Day Tournament to give some team members a third title in four seasons.
With about 40 games under their belt this season, the Hilo All-Stars’ strength, Miyao said, is experience. Of the 14 players on the roster, only two are 11 years old.
“We’re familiar with each other and have repetition in game situations,” he said. “I don’t think they go into this tournament any differently than others, because I don’t think at this age group they look ahead to (today).
“I believe any of the eight teams can win.”
The only time Andrews has stubbed its toe the past four seasons at the Kona tourney was during a 15-11 extra-inning loss last season to Hilo’s Big Island Ballers. Players from both of those teams will help comprise the Hilo Pony 13s, which get a bye at states in a three-team, double-elimination field. Kauai and Maui play today, with Hilo playing the winner at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Knowing that Hilo will need just two wins to claim a title, coach Masa Pagay feels his pitching corps is deep, led by right-handers Joey Jarneski and Jaisten Cabatbat and left-hander David Nakamura.
After practicing together for a few weeks, Hilo’s ready to hit the field.
“They are very excited and anxious to get out there,” Pagay said. “Everyone has jelled.
“We’re going in pretty blind (to the competition). But everyone is playing the same cards.”
Much like the Bronco division, Mustang play will be an eight-team, double-elimination field with teams from Hilo and Kona, four from Oahu, and one apiece from Kauai and Maui.
Hilo will open play at 11:30 a.m. today in both tourneys, but the rest of the draws were held after press time. First round games today are at 8 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The finals are Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Hilo and Windward (Oahu) will play a best-of-three Mustang 9s tournament starting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.