AP NEWS

Pony League teams ready for City Championship Tournament Thursday night

May 15, 2019

At the Ruth Minchen Athletic Complex this week, youth baseball teams are fine-tuning their product.

Not all, just the four top teams among the 11 and 12-year-olds, namely Deer Park Pony Baseball’s Bronco League and the Mustang League for the 9 and 10-year-olds.

Thursday night at 6:30, the Astros, Mets, Yankees and Dodgers will compete in a pair of Bronco League semifinal contests to determine which two advance to next Monday night’s city championship game. Monday’s action is slated to start at 6 p.m.

The Astros, owners of the No. 1 seed, will face the Dodgers, owners of the fourth seed and the Mets oppose the Yankees, a meeting of the two and three seeds.

“We’ll probably see Preston Bryant and Aidan Pena-Weed starting off the tournament,” said Astros coach Steven Aguirre, naming his likely starters during a Tuesday night practice.

Thanks to the basics of any successful baseball team, pitching and hitting, the Astros lost just one regular season game, while winning 11.

Bryant, a sixth grader at Deer Park Junior High, is 4-0 on the mound this spring. His best game to date was the one-hitter he tossed.

“I throw a four-seam, two seam, cutter, change-up and I may throw a curveball twice a game,” said Bryant, who spent the autumn months playing for a select team that helped smooth out a few rough edges.

Bryant can also boast of some solid defense as a catcher. He’s thrown out runners at third and second base.

But one can expect the other three teams to bring quality pitchers to the tournament. Which youngster exhibits the best control could be the determining factor.

Pony Baseball went to a pitch count in 2018 to determine how many days off a pitcher must have before he can take the hill again, so that will be a factor.

But for teams like the Astros, who apparently has some depth at pitcher, it may not be as crucial. But it could if one pitcher struggles and a club is forced to bring in their other ace.

For either Bryant or Pena-Weed, it means if they win Thursday and they want to pitch again in Monday’s championship game, they can’t exceed 65 pitches. From 51-65 pitches, a youngster in the Bronco League must have three days rest. Starting at 66, a pitcher must have four days rest.

That’s also the cutoff for Mustang League pitchers. However, a pitcher can exceed 65 pitches in order to finish a batter.

And never has battling at the plate been so important. Imagine a youngster fouling off five pitches Thursday night before he’s either retired or gets on the basepaths. That’s five pitches deeper into a pitch count. That’s the equivalent of 1½ more batters just because a kid fought off fastballs, change-ups, etc.

ravery@hcnonline.com