SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — After striking out his 15th batter to end the game, Hawaii’s Aukai Kea pumped his fists and let out a shout for all to hear.
Within seconds, Kea’s teammates sprinted to the pitcher’s mound to congratulate their team’s ace, hugging and pounding on him. Hawaii shut out Georgia 3-0 and Kea’s complete game sealed its berth in the Little League World Series championship.
“I just pitched my heart out,” Kea said. “Did as best I could.”
About 60 feet away, the Hawaii faithful chanted “Hon-o-lulu!” in the stands over the first base dugout. As his home state deals with record rainfall from Tropical Storm Lane 4,000 miles away from South Williamsport, Kea took full note of the fans’ energy.
“When I was on the mound, I could hear them and I was like, ‘That’s why we’re here. That’s who we’re playing for. We’re playing for home, playing for Hawaii,’” Kea said.
The U.S champions will take on South Korea in the tournament championship Sunday.
Even though Georgia never advanced a runner past first base, the game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when a pair of pinch hitters provided the spark that Hawaii needed.
With two outs, Hunter Nishina hustled to turn an ordinary bloop hit to shallow left field into a double. One batter later, John De la Cruz picked up his first hit of the tournament, breaking the deadlock by knocking a single to right center.
“We always talk about how it’s ‘We over Me,’ and he did what we needed to score a run,” catcher Bruce Boucher said, referencing the slogan that appeared on the back of the Honolulu team’s jerseys during its run to South Williamsport.
Hawaii used another two-out rally to add the game’s final two runs in the fifth, on an RBI triple from Boucher, followed by Jace Souza’s run-scoring single.
While Georgia played Hawaii tighter than any other team in the tournament, it was held scoreless in all 17 innings played between the two teams at the double-elimination tournament. Much of that was due to Kea, who also hit a walk-off, two-run homer to end the teams’ 11-inning game last week.
“He was better than I’ve ever seen him,” Georgia manager Patrick Gloriod said. “The kid has a split-finger (pitch) that’s just nasty and he kept us off balance.”
With two singles in Saturday’s contest, Georgia shortstop Tai Peete was the only player who mustered any sort of success in either game the team from Peachtree City faced Kea. Peete, one of the standout players in the entire tournament, was hugged by members of Hawaii’s team during its celebration.
“He’s a cool guy,” Kea said. “We just tried to pick him up because that’s what friends do when others are down.”
Hawaii manager Gerald Oda agreed. “That whole Georgia team are great kids,” he said. “We call it Aloha spirit, they call it Southern hospitality.”