HILO — The Kawaihau Community Little League Juniors won the Hawaii Little League Juniors tournament to secure a berth at regionals.
Kawaihau defeated Makakilo in the championship game of the state double-elimination tournament Tuesday in Hilo, 9-7.
“All I have to say is that it was a dog fight. Both teams battled back and forth,” Kauaihau head coach Justin Malina said in a phone interview. “It was just us and them exchanging punches. It came down to, all around, teamwork on both sides.”
“I think it was bottom of the sixth and they were up one, 7-6. Then we came out top of the seventh, and we scored three runs,” he continued. “It was 9-7. They were up (to bat) bottom of the seventh, and it was two quick outs — it was a strikeout, and then it was a hit to the pitcher for two quick outs. Then they got one hit. The next batter, he hit into third base. Grounded out, and we won the game.”
Prior to the championship game, Kawaihau defeated Makakilo, 9-2, and beat Aiea, 10-0.
“I guess it was a mental thing,” Malina said of the title game being more closely contested. “I always tell them that no lead is safe no matter who we play. I think it was that my boys got a little too comfortable after winning the first two games.
“It was a big nail-bitter. The other team, they wanted to win. They tried their hardest to win,” he added. “When push came to shove, our boys just stepped up and played like how they were supposed to play.”
The Juniors Little League Regional tournament begins Aug. 3 in Seattle. The Kawaihau boys will be home for at least a week before taking off for Washington on Aug. 1. The winner of the regionals advances to the Juniors Little League World Series in Michigan.
The team reached the Little League World Series last year as the Kawaihau Community Little League 50-70s, but fell short.
“Got to get back home. Got to strategize how we get there. Get back to the grind,” Malina. “Not to take away anything, the joy of the boys from last year’s team that made it — the 50-70s. So, it’s a grind. The majority of the boys knows what it takes to get back up there. … I think when the boys got to the World Series last year, it was a big shock — the big stage. I’m assuming if we do make it back there again, they’ll be more calm. They expect (they’ll do) what needs to be done.”
Malina added: “Just want to thank the people of Kauai. I know they supported us all the way, and they’ll continue to support us. We’ll just represent Kawaihau, Kauai and Hawaii.”