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Fountain Valley PONY Mustang team advances to West Zone final

Fountain Valley PONY Mustang team advances to West Zone final
Tonga Uhila, shown during a game on July 12, was three for three with two doubles Saturday night for the Fountain Valley PONY Mustang 10-and-under All-Stars. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Fountain Valley can smell a berth in the International World Series.

The Mustang 10-and-under All-Stars pummeled Kauai (Hi.) 12-5 in the West Zone semifinals Saturday night at Sunburst Field in Los Alamitos, setting up Sunday’s championship game against Placentia at 11 a.m.

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Starting pitcher Justin Rackley performed on the mound and at the plate, fueling comprehensive early-inning dominance. After ceding a single from Hawaii’s Kailer Chow-Agor, he retired two, and catcher Nick Grissom picked off Chow-Agor for the third out.

Rackley preceded to lead off with a single, and then entering scoring position with a steal. Kauai’s Noah Ibaan walked Luke Scuncio and Brody Schatzman to load the bases, and Tonga Uhila – sporting two-foot-long dreads – drove two home to break the tie.

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Uhila was a machine, going three for three with a pair of doubles, runs batted in and runs.

The rest of the order furthered the onslaught. Manoah Leiato snuck a single between third and short for run No. 3. Angel Veladez tacked on the final two of the inning with an RBI-double, stretching the margin to 5-0.

Two Rackley strikeouts in the second neutralized any threat. His bat would soon overshadow his lock-down pitching.

After a Grisson single, Rackley roped a line drive into the right field corner. While the outfielder fumbled to secure the ball, he stretched his strides around the bases, crossing home standing up for an inside-the-park home run.

“I played the way I knew I could play today,” a soft-spoken Rackley said.

Trailing 7-0 in the third, the visitors from Hawaii made their move. Kysen Bacau singled, and a Rackley error on a routine throw to first gave him time to slide into third. A passed ball laid the path for Bacau to slide home, closing the gap to 7-1.

Rackley suddenly found himself with the bases loaded, and the visitors seemed poised for a comeback. He leaned on his defense, forcing a flyout and a groundout to eliminate the threat. Leiato flashed a strong glove, snatching the grounder at his laces for the out.

Rackley left the mound after three innings, allowing three hits and a run, while fanning three. His final line at the plate: two for three with two runs on top of the home run.

The offense continued to pummel Ibaan, chasing him after another earned run in the bottom of the third. Bacau replaced him, and promptly allowed two more scores off a Grissom single. Needing one more run for the mercy, Bacau struck out Scuncio to keep Kauai alive.

The remainder of the night was a back-and-forth affair, as Kauai would stay just close enough to prevent the mercy, while Fountain Valley would respond with further offense.

Vincent Meza relieved in the sixth, clinching the game by pitching one-run baseball.

Their championship opponent Placentia prevailed in a barnburner just minutes before first pitch, edging hometown Los Alamitos 14-11.

“We played them twice [earlier this season],” Fountain Valley coach Steve Rittenhouse said. “We are a much different team than we were then, and we’re excited for the opportunity.”

The West Zone champion earns the right to travel to Youngsville, La. next weekend. A Southern California team has been the Mustang World Champion four times in the last decade.

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