SYAA hosts PONY tourney

Published 8:44 pm Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tristen DeGuzman of the Suffolk U12 Nationals singles and drives two runners home on this swing during their 14-4 victory over Smithfield on Saturday in the Suffolk Invitational at Diamond Springs Park.

By Titus Mohler
Correspondent

The Suffolk Youth Athletic Association is holding the Suffolk Invitational, a PONY Bronco and Mustang tournament, this weekend, and a 12U all-star team is making the host city proud.

The Suffolk Invitational includes teams from all over Hampton Roads within the league put on by PONY, which stands for “Protect Our Nation’s Youth.”

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The regular season ended a couple of weeks ago, and now the brightest PONY stars get a chance to play together to represent their cities. At the 12U level, Suffolk is represented by the Nationals.

“We went through and picked the best for the all-stars,” Nationals head coach Darren Brown said. “Coaches select them.”

Brown explained how the Nationals got a head start for the all-star level of competition.

“We have a Sunday program here at (SYAA),” Brown said, “and a lot of the kids have played on the Sunday teams and a good group of these kids were together on the Sunday teams. So, (we) had a little bit set in place going in.”

In the first game of the tournament on Thursday, the Nationals defeated one of the three teams that Western Branch sent by a score of 18-5. Next, they beat one of the teams from Chesapeake 13-1.

After rain delayed all of Friday’s action, play resumed Saturday morning against Smithfield’s all-star team. The Nationals found themselves down 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning, when their offense came alive.

“Then the bats finally woke up after three innings,” Brown said. “Had a good defensive outing, they got excited, and they played the normal ball we’re used to playing.”

The Suffolk players rattled off 11 runs and ended up winning 14-4 due to the 10-run rule. Pitcher Tristen DeGuzman contributed a dominant performance, taking the mound for the last two innings of the game and throwing six strikeouts.

Players on the teams exhibited some skills that, Brown points out, are not often seen in a Little League setting. The PONY league creates circumstances that more closely approximate what the kids will face on the diamond when they are older.

“It’s like Little League, except we’re playing straight up baseball,” he said. “The difference between Little League and these kids (is) the leading off, the pick-off moves…”

Also, the base paths are longer than in Little League — bases are 70 feet apart in this case — and the pitcher’s mound is farther from home base.

Assistant coach Michael Conn praises his all-stars for some of the skills they have developed as a result of the rules.

“There’s not too many teams out there that will pick a runner off base like our team can, because we practice it,” he said. “And there’s not another team out here where (if) the guy will try to steal the base (the team) will throw the runner out except for our team.”

Brown sums up the focus of what they are trying to accomplish with the kids in the PONY league.

“This is probably the last year that they really play real strong competitive baseball before they start playing high school,” he said. “(We’re) trying to get them ready for high school.”

The Nationals will play again on Sunday and the semi-finals and championship games will be played on Monday. They will play in a Deep Creek tournament next weekend, and the SYAA will host the district tournament in two weeks.

The cream of the crop can eventually advance to a World Series tournament in Monterey, Calif., which includes teams from all around the world.