When Joe Jarneski came off the field Tuesday after being hit in the face with a ball, there were questions as to whether he would play for Hilo against Chinese Taipei Wednesday night in the PONY League World Series final.
"It was scary because his eye was so swollen and we just had to wait [in the hospital] for the CT scan to come back," Hilo manager Stacey Jarneski said.
Instead of interested bystander, however, Jarneski was the driving force that guided Hawaii to its first title in 34 years. He went 2 for 3 with a solo home run and three RBIs and pitched his second complete game of the tournament to lead Hilo to a 5-3 victory against Taoyuan County, Taiwan, in the championship at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington.
It was the third time a team from Hawaii won the title and first since Maui took home the crown in 1980. Hilo, which went 4-0 in the tournament, is also the first victor from the Big Island of Hawai'i.
"Our other guys came up here last year and they had a big loss," Hilo first baseman Eric Riviera said. "Our goal was to beat the two teams they lost to and we did it."
Tuesday against Chesterfield County, Jarneski was caught in a rundown between third and home in the sixth inning when he was hit in the face on a throw. The ball hit him under the visor on his helmet and he recovered to score on the play, but he was taken out of the game, and later to the hospital, for precautionary reasons.
"My vision came back and there's a little bit of a cut under the eyelid," Jarneski said. "I was scared that I wouldn't be able to play."
The swelling around his left eye subsided. Any questions about his vision went away quickly when he opened the scoring with an opposite-field home run with one out in the first, then lined a two-run double to center in the second that staked Hilo to a 5-0 lead.
He also took care of business on the mound, striking out 11, allowing five hits and one walk.
Chinese Taipei starter Yi Sheng Chu didn't fare as well. He couldn't make it out of the first and lasted 18 pitches before he was pulled. Chu allowed the home run to Jarneski and was yanked immediately after Riviera hit a two-out solo home run that gave Hilo a 3-0 lead.
Taoyuan County reliever Li-Wei Chiang allowed two runs in the second, but settled after that. He finished with nine strikeouts in 51/3 innings, surrendered four hits and did not issue a walk.
"I think [Chu] was just nervous," Chinese Taipei manager Wei Chih Huang said through an interpreter. "So that was when we decided to change to [Chiang]."
Chinese Taipei made it interesting in the top of the sixth when Chao Yu Yeh hit a two-run opposite-field home run down the line in left to bring Taiwan back to within two, 5-3. But Jarneski retired the next three batters before any more damage, then closed it out with a scoreless seventh.
"It felt good because I'm helping my team," Jarneski said. "This is just really exciting."