The bid to bring a Little League grand prize to Kauai fell short right at the end.
Kawaihau Community Little League won the United States championship of the Junior League Baseball World Series Tournament Sunday, but then lost in the tournament final later in the day.
“They got nothing to be ashamed of. Second-best in the world ain’t too shabby,” Kawaihau head coach Justin Malina said in a phone interview Sunday.
Kawaihau, the United States champion representing the U.S. West region, lost to Shing-Ming Junior LL of Chinese Taipei, 9-1, on Sunday at Heritage Park in Taylor, Mich.
Malina told his team, “If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. Just have fun. You guys are on TV. Smile.”
Shing-Ming Junior LL represented the Asia-Pacific region in the tournament.
“They’re well-disciplined. They’re well-trained,” Malina said of the Chinese Taipei team. “You go through the lineup, they all hit well. They hardly made mistakes. Hats off to them. They’re just an awesome team.”
Earlier on Sunday, Kawaihau won the U.S. championship and earned the bid to the final game by defeating Padre LL of Texas, 4-3. Padre LL represented the U.S. Southwest region.
In that U.S. final, Ricky Rego hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Prior to that game-winning hit, Kaimi Malina converted on a squeeze bunt to bring in the tying run and was safe at first base, Malina said.
“Like I’ve said, these kids don’t seem to surprise me. In the U.S. championship, we were down again,” Malina said. “They pulled through. Hey, winning the U.S. championship was icing on the cake.”
That U.S. final was scheduled for Saturday, but unfavorable weather postponed the game to Sunday.
Though the team had to play a doubleheader Sunday, Malina said the players weren’t physically drained going into the final.
“I don’t think it’s a fatigue thing. I know there were roadblocks that set us (back) from playing a doubleheader, like you can’t use so much catchers and you can’t use so much pitchers. So, that was a disadvantage to us,” he said. “But hey, if we didn’t take care of business in the first game, we wouldn’t have been in the second game.”
Prior to losing to Chinese Taipei, Kawaihau had been unbeaten since the Lihue Baseball League Da Bash Memorial Day tournament in May.
“I’m speechless, seriously,” Malina said of the team’s accomplishments throughout the summer. “I love these boys. They battled. They played for me. They played for the island. What more can you ask? They did they’re job.”
Kawaihau Community LL, based in Kapaa, will return to Kauai at 2 p.m. today.
For the team to go as far as it has gone and to represent The Garden Isle and the state of Hawaii, Malina said, “It’s very meaningful.”
“It brings tears of joy just to represent the 808 and to represent Kauai,” the coach said. “It’s just, I can’t explain. It’s just a feeling, a high, that will never probably go away.”
Lastly, Malina wanted to say mahalo to everyone who has supported the team.
“Thank you for everything. Thank you to the people of Hawaii, the people of Kauai, all our supporters, everybody,” he said. “Words cannot express how deeply (appreciative) I am of you guys for making these kids’ dreams come true, and for us coaches.”
“I cannot wait to get back home, seriously. I miss my wife,” he added.
w Information from Little League Baseball World Series was added to this story.