Wally Wong had a feeling his Irvine Pony 13 All-Star baseball team might be going somewhere a while ago.
Weeks before his team won the Pony 13 World Series championship, Wong's team was entered in two tournaments simultaneously — one in Mission Viejo and one in Placentia.
"When we won both tournaments, I kind of knew we had something special," Wong said.
And Wong should know. He's coached for 22 years for Irvine Pony Baseball, coaching all four of his sons until the youngest of the four played his final season in the league five years ago.
But Wong loved coaching so much, he decided to stay on. He joined the league's board six years ago, and for the past four years he has coached the Pony 13 team even though he didn't have a son on the team.
This year's team made it all worth it for Wong when his team won the Pony 13 World Series title recently, culminating with a 17-6 mercy-rule win over Miami (Tamiami), Fla. at Amerige Park in Fullerton on July 31.
"It's a huge accomplishment," said Wong, who gave lots of credit to assistant coaches Sean Collins and Kevin Conlin. "It's pretty amazing. I've been coaching 22 years and we've never come this close. It's still hard to imagine. No team in Irvine ever has won for (ages) 9 and above and in Orange County I think we're the only team to win outside of Huntington Beach [Ocean View Little League in 2011]."
Irvine had to get through the regional playoffs, then the super regionals and finally the zone playoffs. When it faced Miami, the team set the tone immediately and never looked back.
Max Juang was the first batter for Irvine, and he hit the very first pitch of the game for a triple. Irvine went on to score four runs in the first inning.
"I've never seen a player do that on the first pitch, ever," Wong said. "When it happened, you could see the psychological blow it had on Miami. When we scored four runs, it was devastating for them. I think they were out of it after that."
Miami did rally, though, cutting Irvine's lead to 6-5 in the third inning, a result of some shoddy defense by Irvine.
"They scored four of their five runs on errors," Wong said. "I don't know if we were nervous or what."
The nerves certainly disappeared when Irvine's players were in the batter's box. Irvine scored eight runs in the fifth inning to take a 14-5 lead. The game was called due to the mercy rule (10-run lead) after the sixth inning with Irvine leading, 17-6.
Irvine got contributions from up and down the lineup. Besides his triple, Juang also had a double. Mike Frias had three hits, scored two and had four runs batted in. Andrew Kim had two hits and Austin Schell scored two and drove in two.
Will Faure had three hits and two RBIs and Zak Baayoun had two hits and two RBIs. Isaac Martinez drove in a run with a squeeze bunt. Wong also credited reserve players Noah Estrada and Alex Uy.
"Our batting was amazing," Wong said. "I think we averaged 18 hits a game."
Jacob Collins pitched the first three innings for Irvine, and Frias finished up with the final three innings.
In taking it all in, Wong could not help but reflect to last season. Last year's team was short on experience at the catcher spot, but added two solid catchers to this year's team in Schell and Michael Hanson.
Another key Wong said was that 11 of the team's 13 players could pitch.
"That helped us a lot," Wong said. "With the pitching regulations [pitch-count limits], it's great for the players but you do need a lot of backup pitchers."
His sons having grown out of the league and now with a World Series title under his belt, Wong said he hasn't decided if he'll keep coaching next season. He'll talk with assistants Collins, who is also the Orange Coast College men's golf coach, and Conlin and he will figure it out.
But for now, he's just enjoying his players' accomplishment.
"It's literally something I can't describe," Wong said. "It's heaven on earth for me."