LIHUE — After nearly four weeks of playing baseball in Arizona and California, the Kawaihau Community Little League Intermediate 50/70 team returned home Sunday night.
“What a wonderful experience for them,” said Charlene Cummings, player Levi Cummings’ grandmother, during the wait on the flight which was delayed.
With three players fanning the West Regional championship banner, and one hoisting the World Series plaque high overhead, the team came through the sliding doors greeted by whoops of joy and cheer, parents rushing the small group eager to present lei.
Among the greeters, Ricky Rego was absent from the team this year, opting to play for the Babe Ruth 15s program where they finished third in the state tournament.
“I know them all,” Rego said. “I was following their games, and I kept thinking, ‘Not to get down and play hard.’”
Coach Mikey Cardinez said the outing was fun.
“It wasn’t as hot as we thought it would be,” Coach Cardinez said of the regionals played in Nogales, Arizona, where Kawaihau rolled through the competition before beating Washington state 9-3 in the title game for the berth to the World Series. “It was better than we expected and it didn’t rain that much. The weather actually made a big difference for us. When the title game at the regionals was postponed because of lightning, that was a big difference. Nainoa Cardinez wasn’t ready because of his pitching. The overnight rest put him in the ready position.”
Cardinez said the regionals and the World Series were a good experience.
“It was unreal,” the coach said. “I think the boys were caught up in the World Series hype. But they played well and we are proud of them.”
Nainoa, a key pitcher and hitter for Kawaihau on the playoff run, said everything was good.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But to meet all those teams was awesome. Playing up there was a lot more competitive than playing here.”
Veronica Nagahisa, making the trip to both Arizona and California, said the Kawaihau team made little friends everywhere.
“The mayor’s office sent up some things the boys could give away as gifts,” Nagahisa said. “None of the other teams had gifts to exchange and Hawaii quickly made friends with teams from everywhere.”
Kaimi Malina, recording the only shutout in the World Series by going the distance in the Kauai team’s 11-0 World Series win over Europe-Africa, said he was glad to be home.
The team dropped the first two games in California before closing on a winning note. The Intermediate 50/70 league has 50-foot pitching mounds and 70-foot base paths, longer dimensions than the Little League World Series that plays on national television.
“I’m glad to be home,” he said. “But it wasn’t just me. There were all the other players on the team contributing. This was a real good experience for all of us.”
Kawaihau coach Justin Malina said the state tournament was tough.
”Getting to the World Series was just icing on the cake. I told the boys, ‘winning is the bonus, just go out and enjoy the game,” he said. “You don’t get to the World Series by accident — you earn the right.’ Now, everybody knows where Kawaihau — no, Kauai — is. These boys put us on the map.”