Talk about a nice Hawaiian punch.
The Hawaii Little League all-stars, with apologies to the old fruit punch commercial, tagged Northern California with a haymaker Saturday en route to an 11-2 victory at Al Houghton Stadium.
The one-sided victory in the West Region title game sends the Honolulu team to the Little League World Series, Aug. 16-26 in Williamsport, Penn.
The Hawaiians were expected to leave the Western Regional headquarters in San Bernardino well before daybreak on Sunday for the plane ride to Pennsylvania.
“We’re not going to sleep,” said Hawaii slugger Sean Yamaguchi, who went 3-for-4 at the plate and drove in four runs, including hitting a two-run first-inning home run which tied the game 2-2 at the time. “We’re going to party with Idaho – they’re our bunk buddies.”
Idaho, which was situated in the regional barracks next to Hawaii, won the Northwest Region and is also headed to Williamsport.
“This is unbelievable,” Yamaguchi said. “All our fans were cheering us on and we are just living our dream.”
The Al Houghton Stadium infield was covered with mitts, hats and catcher’s equipment after Hawaii relief pitcher Yamaguchi retired the team from Rocklin in order in the top of the sixth to secure the victory.
Following a mosh pit scene in the middle of the field, the Honolulu boys ran to their coaches and shared some embraces before posing for pictures.
“We’ve been getting that Aloha spirit from our parents and from our supporters back in the islands,” Hawaii manager Gerald Oda said. “These kids have been together for a long time, some of them since the coach-pitch league.”
NorCal touched Hawaii starter Aukai Kea for two runs in the first inning, with Nathan Erickson roping a key double to spark the rally.
But Yamaguchi’s home run over the fence in left-center field tied the game in the bottom of the first. Then Hawaii took the lead for good, 3-2 in the third when Kea hit a one-out single, and the run eventually came in on a wild pitch.
Hawaii kept on hacking. A four-run rally in the fourth sparked by Mana Lau Kong’s two-run single and three runs in the fifth sparked by Kaolu Holt’s run-scoring double knocked the wind out of Rocklin.
All of those runs also settled the nerves of Kea, who pitched five innings and yielded two earned runs on three hits. He also struck out 13 and walked four.
“It took the pressure off me,” Kea said. “I knew my team was behind me. My fastball was amazing – I was throwing gas. And my curveball was all right.”
Besides Yamaguchi’s exploits, Kong went 2-for-3 and drove in two runs for Hawaii and Kea went 2-for-4 and knocked in one. Bruce Boucher, Chandler Murray, Tanner Chun, Holt, John De la Cruz and Zachary Won all had one hit apiece as Hawaii out-hit NorCal 13-3.
Erickson led NorCal with a pair of doubles and Benjamin Tipper had one hit.
Whether Hawaii was to get any sleep time Saturday night or not, Kea said the island boys are revved up for the last leg in their amazing journey.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’re looking forward to playing some even better teams from the mainland and seeing how we can do.”