WATSONVILLE — The PONY NorCal Coast Regional tournament is back in Watsonville and the hosts believe they have a solid shot to win the whole thing.
Starting today, six All-Star PONY teams from the Monterey Bay will descend on McElroy Field at Franich Park to compete for the regional championship and the right to move on to the NorCal Super Regional round. The winner and runner-up of the regional, which will conclude on Monday or, if needed, Tuesday, will advance to the super regional in Campbell.
Watsonville has not reached the super regional round at the 14-year-old level since the star-studded 2013 squad powered its way to the regional title and fell just two wins short of playing for the super regional championship.
This season, however, head coach Moises Leonor has confidence in his team’s chances at replicating that magic.
“We have talent but minimal experience together,” Leonor said. “It’s going to be a challenge. Hopefully these guys gel enough together so that we can get a few wins and get to that one round where we want to be in: the championship round.”
Several players on this year’s 14-year-old team were members of the Watsonville PONY-13 team that won the regional in 2015 and did some damage in the NorCal Super Regional before running out of pitching and being eliminated a couple rounds short of the championship game.
“We ran out of pitching that year,” said assistant coach Andres Galvan. “That’s not gonna happen this year. We’ve got plenty of guys that can throw for us.”
Nathaniel Brouse, who recorded 17 strikeouts in the Watsonville PONY League championship game, leads the pack of pitchers and is also one of Watsonville’s top hitters. Jared Martinez and Donovan Mendoza will also start on the mound, while Ruben De La Torre will provide solid tosses out of the bullpen.
“With either one of those guys on the bump, we feel like we can win that game,” Leonor said.
Watsonville won’t play until 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, when it faces the winner of Pacific Grove and Mid-County.
Toro, which has won the tournament two of the last three years, also received a first-round bye and will kickoff Saturday’s action at 9 a.m. against the winner of Santa Cruz and Carmel.
Santa Cruz won the tournament in 2015 and figures to be one of the favorites along with Toro and Watsonville to claim the title after dominating the PONY-13 level last season.
“It always seems like it’s the three of us going at it,” Leonor said. “Anyone can win it, really, but Santa Cruz is a powerhouse. We feel like that’s the team to beat. They’ll be a tough matchup.”
• Watsonville starts tournament on Friday – All-Star teams from Watsonville, Monterey and Santa Cruz will compete for the PONY-13 NorCal Coast Regional championship at Jack’s Park in Monterey starting on Friday.
Both the winner and runner-up of the tournament will advance to the NorCal Super Regional round in Campbell.
Watsonville plays Monterey on Friday at 5 p.m. in the first game of the tournament.
The three teams will play four games apiece. The top two teams will play in the championship game on Monday at 6 p.m.
Last year, Santa Cruz went undefeated to claim its fifth title in the last six years.
Watsonville was the last team to dethrone Santa Cruz, beating the powerhouse in 2015.