Nainoa Cardinez’s walk-off single in the tenth inning delivered the regional title to Kauai on Wednesday.
Kawaihau Community Little League defeated Encinitas Little League of Southern California 2-1 in the championship game of the Junior Baseball Western Regional Tournament at Propstra Stadium in Vancouver, Wash.
“Just from a little dot on the map, one parent said to me, ‘Hawaii is becoming the powerhouse of the West,’” Kawaihau head coach Justin Malina said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And it’s true. Look at Maui (in the Little League World Series). They’re representing.”
“Kaimi Malina, he ripped one to third base and the third baseman bobbled it. So, we had a runner on first and third. And then Keoua Sibayan, he walked,” Malina said. “Bases loaded, ‘Noa came through. And he did a hell of a job on the mound, and so did Ricky Boy Rego.”
Kawaihau scored the game’s first run in the fourth inning, and Encinitas leveled the score with a run in the fifth.
“That Southern Cal team was tough. It took my No. 1 and my No. 2 pitchers to take them out,” Malina said. “I had my ammo for the game. They pushed the limits — 10 innings and it was 2-1. It was a battle and that pitcher from SoCal, he’s awesome.”
The boys from The Garden Isle went undefeated in tournament play en route to clinching regionals.
Kawaihau defeated Walker River Little League of Nevada, 1-0, Tuesday in the semifinals, and defeated West Valley Little League of Washington in the quarterfinals, 5-1, on Monday.
In pool play, Kawaihau beat Gastineau Channel Little League of Alaska, 11-3, and beat Nogales Little League of Arizona, 7-5.
Malina said the team has been unbeaten since the Lihue Baseball League Da Bash Memorial Day tournament.
“Da Bash, we went 4-0. Districts, we went 2-0. States, we went 3-0. Regionals, we went 5-0,” he said. “This team is legit. They’re a tough team, and the boys play well together. When they’re down, somebody picks them up.”
Kawaihau will have no time to rest. From Washington, the team will fly to Taylor, Mich. for the Junior League Baseball World Series, which begins Sunday.
“It’s been an awesome journey, an awesome ride,” Malina said. “Hopefully, we can bring home one more banner that says World Series champs on it.”
Kawaihau reached the World Series tournament last year in the 50-70s division.
“We’re more confident. We’re more experienced from last year,” Malina said. “When we got there last year, it was the big lights — the big show. Our boys bucked a little under the pressure. Now, they’ve seen it. They know what to expect. They’ll be ready.”
The Kawaihau coach added: “Hopefully, it’s not cold weather because I didn’t pack anything warm. You know us Hawaii boys, we don’t have sweaters. … I’m blessed. I can’t thank my coaches, the players, the parents and my wife (enough) for all their support, and all the people of Kauai.”