LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL
GABRIEL L. ACOSTA / GLAPHOTO@DSLEXTREME.COM
Christian "C-Boy" Donahue scored Waipio's first run on a passed ball in yesterday's West Region-clinching victory.
Little League World Series up next for Waipio squad
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. » The name of venue here for the Little League Western Regional is Al Houghton Stadium.
But last night, it became Winchester House.
Pikai Winchester, playing before 10,000 fans and a national television audience on ESPN2, made Houghton Stadium his personal playground.
GABRIEL L. ACOSTA / GLAPHOTO@DSLEXTREME.COM
Waipio will be the 10th team to represent Hawaii at the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa., after beating Henderson, Nev., 4-3 yesterday.
The soft-spoken third baseman turned into Mike Schmidt, belting two home runs and knocking in three runs to lift Waipio Little League to a stunning 4-3 upset of Paseo Verde LL of Henderson, Nev., in the West Region title game.
"He showed you guys what he is capable of tonight," said Timo Donahue, the police detective who manages Waipio.
Winchester's home run off Nevada fireballer Michael Blasko to lead off the fourth inning provided the margin of victory. It also sent the island boys to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa., which begins Friday.
"That felt good," Winchester said after the TV cameras had departed. "I felt good at the plate tonight."
Not long after Winchester's second home run, Waipio reliever Tanner Tokunaga stood behind the mound, bent at the waist with two out and nobody on base in the sixth and final inning. He whispered a quick prayer before he faced Blasko, who had blasted three home runs in an earlier West Region game.
Then with all those fans in San Bernardino and across the country watching, Tokunaga struck out Blasko swinging to end the game.
"I cried when we won," Tokunaga admitted.
Up in the stands, Waipio fans were beside themselves. They celebrated wildly - a party that likely continued into the wee hours of this morning at the San Bernardino Hilton, home of the team's fans for the better part of two weeks.
"I'm very proud of these boys," Donahue said. "We battled and never gave up. That was our attitude all along."
The Waipio boys mugged for the TV cameras afterward, received the West Region title banner and took a jubilant lap around the outfield.
Along the way, Tokunaga spotted a teary-eyed Nevada player exiting the field and patted him on the back and told him, "Hey, keep your head up."
The Nevada boys did, for the most part.
"Overall, I think I did good, but they just had a good hitter (Winchester) who hit two home runs," said Blasko, who struck out 14. "I threw him a couple of fastballs and he hit them over the fence.
"But this whole thing was fantastic. We got to play on ESPN and in front of all these fans. It was like a dream."
Hawaii started out hot, scoring three runs off Blasko in the first inning, highlighted by Winchester's two-run home run over the left-field fence.
But Hawaii's burly left-hander Khade Paris was feeling pain in his arm and was wild throughout his 60-pitch, 21/3 inning stint. Donahue lifted him with a man on and one out in the third. Nevada immediately took advantage, getting a two-run home run by James Anderson and a long solo home run one batter later by Griffin Kelly.
Just like that, it was 3-3.
Both homers came off Tokunaga, who was only temporarily shaken.
"They had only tied the game," Tokunaga said. "I knew it wasn't over yet."
Nevada's inability to floor Tokunaga frustrated its manager, Jim Kelly.
"I thought we'd knock him out," Kelly said. "I told our kids to take a strike against him, but they kept swinging at curve balls in the dirt."
Tied 3-3, Nevada put runners on second and third with two out in the fourth. Josh McCollum hit a hard grounder to the right side, but Waipio second baseman Kainoa Fong ranged to his left, gloved the ball and then whirled to throw McCollum out at first.
"That play saved two runs," Donahue said.
Nevada outhit Waipio 5-4. Besides Winchester's two homers, Christian "C-Boy" Donahue and Jedd Andrade each had singles for Waipio.
Next stop for the island boys now is Williamsport. They leave San Bernardino for the East Coast tomorrow at 2:30 a.m. Waipio will meet Shelton National LL of Shelton, Conn., at noon Hawaii time on Friday. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.
Hawaii 4, Nevada 3
Michael Blasko and Josh McCollum. Khade Paris, Tanner Tokunaga and Iolana Akau. W: Tokunaga. L: Blasko. HR: Nevada-James Anderson, Griffin Kelly. Hawaii-Pikai Winchester 2.