The Protect Our Nation’s Youth teams are in Hilo to play in the State Pony Baseball Championships today.
“This is a special year for a lot of the players,” said Warren Koga, one of two assistant coaches for the Kaua‘i Pony All Star team. “For most of them, this is the last year of Pony baseball. Next year, they’ll be playing in high school if they continue to play baseball.”
Koga said for most of the players, this was one of the few times they all came together to play as a team.
“Last year, Waimea won the league championship, and only one player was invited to play in the state championship,” Koga said. “This year, we have players from all the teams.”
Lihu‘e 1 went undefeated in league play and will form the core of the Kaua‘i Pony All Star team.
Six players from the Lihu‘e 1 team are joined by three players from Kalawai, three players from the Hanapepe Cubs, and one each from Waimea, Kekaha and Kapa‘a for a total of 15 players on the roster.
Bobby Texeira, the head coach for Lihu‘e 1, will be the coach for the All Star team assisted by Koga and Hank Ibia.
Team members from the Lihu‘e 1 champions include Erin Doi, Jensen Koga, Tyrin Texeira, Kawika Ibia, Austin Oshiro and Kellen Aquino. These boys will be joined by Chyson Soares, Kalen Iwai and Sean Tavares out of the Kalawai squad.
Mana Perreira-Alquiza, who was the only player to go to states with Waimea last year, is joined by Brysen Tacata and Shylen Keuma from the Hanapepe Cubs. Alika Emayo is from Kekaha, Wyatt Taniguchi is from Waimea and Bronson Aiwohi from Kapa‘a round out the Kaua‘i All Star team.
Bobby Texeira said this is a well-rounded team with a lot of pitching and good hitting. Jensen Koga will probably go in as the starting pitcher, and according to Bobby, a lot of the selections from the teams was based on players’ ability to hit Jensen during the season.
This provides the Kaua‘i Pony team the base for its hitting.
Additionally, the team has gotten a lot of support from the community including a corps of Red Raider players who were out warming up in blacks.
“This is special, having the Kaua‘i High School players come out to practice with the boys,” Warren said. “Every so many days, we get a new crop of boys, but they don’t fool around. They practice hard and that’s good for the boys.”
Warren said in addition to the high school ball players, they’ve had help from Alan Balocan of the Kaua‘i High School coaching staff, and Ross Kagawa, former Waimea High School and University of Hawai‘i Rainbows standout.
“These coaches don’t even have players on the team, but they come out to help the players,” Warren said. “It’s nice when the community gets behind the players like this.”
Additionally, Bobby said the team’s trip to the Big Island state tournament was made possible through some funding from the Lihu‘e Baseball League as well as several community organizations.
“We’ll probably do some fundraising after we get back,” Bobby said. “Contributions are still welcome.”
But the road to states is filled with five teams from O‘ahu as well as a team from Maui and the Big Island.