[ LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL ]
Kihei’s kids can
continue playing ball
The team tops Aiea
to reach the Little League
A Maui all-star team earned itself another summer baseball trip yesterday.
With a set of triplets as the catalysts, Kihei capped off its visit to Oahu with a 6-4 victory over Aiea for the Hawaii State Little League Baseball Majors Division Tournament championship at Pu'uiki Beach Park in Waialua. The team is going to San Bernardino, Calif., for the Aug. 1-7 Western Region tournament for a chance to represent Hawaii in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The Valley Islanders finished 4-0 in the tourney and are 7-0 overall, having also captured Maui's district crown.
"Last year, we won the district for the first time and 'participated' in the states," Kihei coach Steve Leis said. "We won the district again, and this time we 'competed' at the states. We work really hard -- over three hours every day of practice. This is so fantastic for these kids. We're a team of no selfish players."
Leis, his assistants and the players' parents have been getting daily calls of support from others associated with baseball on Maui and Molokai.
Off the field, Kihei's trip was done with a certain flair. They rented a 4,000-square foot North Shore home and proceeded to pack everybody in after arriving last Thursday.
But on the field is where the team got it done, led by the 12-year-old Diaz triplets.
Right-handed pitcher Michael Diaz went the distance for a five-hitter with 11 strikeouts. After early trouble, he struck out the side in the third, fifth and sixth.
Diaz was the victim of two pinch-hit home runs by Aiea's Dylan Tawata, but persevered despite a final-inning rally by the opponents.
"Two home runs ... I was scared and nervous," Diaz said. "Sometimes I rush when I'm out there, but I kept my composure and took my time. We'll need to step it up a couple of notches in California, but I think we have an equal chance against all the other teams after going undefeated here."
Things were looking up for Aiea in the first inning when Tawata, pinch-hitting for Kyle Uto, cranked a two-out, three-run homer over the center-field fence for a 3-0 lead.
"I was just trying to get basehits," said Tawata, who added a solo shot to left-center in the sixth for Aiea's final run while pinch-hitting a second time for Uto. "Those pitches were right there. We tried our best and that's all we could do."
But another member of the Diaz clan -- catcher Isaiah -- showed Aiea that the Maui team wasn't going to go down easily, if at all. With brother Josh Diaz aboard, Isaiah made it 3-2 in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer to center.
In the second inning, Kihei took command. Michael Diaz's triple drove in a run and David Sifton hit an RBI single to key a three-run rally for a 5-3 lead.
Josh Diaz's RBI hit in the third capped the scoring for the winners.
"I was focused and didn't let it (the three-run deficit) get to me," Isaiah Diaz said about the homer that started the comeback. "I'm very happy. We have a good team. It's kinda fun playing on the same team with my two brothers and working with each other."
Fun most of the time, that is.
"When I don't throw strikes, he gets kind of mad," brother Michael said.
After Tawata's second homer to lead off the sixth, Kainoa Ahsing hit a one-out double, but Aiea couldn't keep the rally going as Michael Diaz sealed the trip to California with two straight strikeouts.
Rayna Okimoto, a 12-year-old girl, went the distance on the mound for Aiea, and only three of the six runs she gave up were earned.
"I could have pitched better," she said. "(On the home run) I pitched it too high and he hit it over the fence."
Aiea coach Terry Fuellas said Okimoto was a big reason the team made it as far as it did.
"She hit her spots and pitched like she's supposed to," Fuellas added. "Dylan (Tawata) has been swinging the bat very well all season and he kept us close.
"Kihei is a good ballclub. They're good fastball hitters and they put the ball in play. I think they'll do all right (in California)."
Rayna Okimoto and Reece Toma; Michael Diaz and Isaiah Diaz. W--M. Diaz. L--Okimoto.
Leading hitters--Aiea: Dylan Tawata 2-2, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs; Kyle Uto 1-1; Kainoa Ahsing 2b. Kihei: M. Diaz 3b, RBI; Josh Diaz 1-2, RBI; I. Diaz HR, 2 RBIs; David Sifton 1-1, RBI.