LITTLE LEAGUE U.S. CHAMPIONSHIP
Waipio's Pikai Winchester has been a force throughout the Little League World Series with three homers and eight RBI.
Waipio Little Leaguers primed for U.S. final
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Waipio still has coaches in Williamsport scratching their heads.
The Little League team will play in the U.S. Championship game today against Lake Charles, La., a first for a Hawaii team since West Oahu won it in 2005.
From Vonn Fe'ao to Michael Memea, West Oahu had the kind of players who looked the part. Waipio seems to have a collection of scrappy kids who just refuse to lose.
At least that's what coaches like Washington manager Scott Mahlum, who has seen Waipio play more than eight times this season, says about the team.
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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. » Before Thursday's semifinal between Louisiana and Florida even took place, Scott Mahlum was asked about a potential matchup between Lake Charles and Waipio.
U.S. Championship game, Waipio vs. Lake Charles, La., 9:30 a.m., KITV, KKEA 1420-AM.
The Washington manager was the only person to face both Louisiana and Hawaii at the Little League World Series. As the eight-team United States side of the tournament started to shake out, it became clear those two squads were emerging as favorites.
They will meet at 9:30 a.m. Hawaii time, with the game televised on ABC.
"Well, I can tell you that Louisiana is pretty damn tough," the Mill Creek manager said. "But Hawaii always finds a way to get it done."
Then again, no one has figured out the mystery of Hawaii in the Little League World Series.
That included Mahlum himself, who saw Waipio play at least eight times prior to his team's 9-4 loss on Wednesday night. It was a game in which Pikai Winchester hit two opposite-field home runs and Tanner Tokunaga and Iolana Akau both went deep.
"There's just something about this Hawaii team when I watch them play that I can't figure out," Mahlum said. "You watch them get out-hit in games, and you see opposing pitchers dominate them. But they are just such a scrappy team.
"The first game I watched them play in regionals, they won 2-1 and they got no-hit by Northern California. Then, a few days later, I watched them play against Arizona and they beat them. But they beat them 5-1 on a four-run, four-base error and many thought that Arizona was one of the weaker teams in the regional.
"I can tell you they've continued to work hard, and there's no doubt they've improved since that regional. If they keep going, it's going to take a pretty good team to beat them."
Most of the talk about the Waipio Little League squad deals with Winchester and the depth of the team's pitching rotation.
Winchester, a second and third baseman, has been on a tear like most haven't seen at the LLWS.
Although his manager Timo Donahue wouldn't tab him as the greatest player to ever grace South Williamsport, he did answer a reporter's question regarding his ability.
"Right now, Pikai is seeing the ball really well and he's done a good job at hitting it," Donahue said.
Entering today's game, Winchester is hitting at a .636 clip, going 7-for-11 with three home runs, two doubles and eight RBI. He also drew one walk and hasn't struck out yet.
While several athletes have made quite an impression at the World Series -- Louisiana's Kennon Fontenot, Washington's Jason Todd, Maryland's Andrew Yacyk and three Rodriguez boys from the Mexico squad -- Winchester has been standing out the most.
"Every time I am going up to the plate, I am just doing this," said Winchester, making the sign of the cross. "I am just looking for a good pitch, and then I clutch up and hit the ball."
As for Donahue's starting pitcher, he let members of the media in on his secret.
"We are thinking about putting all the names in the bucket, and just pulling one out," he said, then smiled.
Although he was joking, it's probably a good bet.
Hawaii has thrown nine pitchers in the LLWS and each one has done an effective job at shutting down the opposing team. Only Caleb Duhay and Christian Donahue, who both went over the 20-pitch limit to keep them eligible for today's game, can't throw.
The Waipio manager can still throw Khade Paris, who started in the West Regional final against Nevada and in a game against Florida. In both, he experienced pain in his arm and was forced to come out early.
Akau, also a pitcher, was injured throughout most of this World Series and hasn't thrown yet. The safe bet would be either Tokunaga or Trevor Ling, who threw well in relief of Paris during the victory over Tampa.
For Louisiana, it's probably not a mystery who will start.
With Fontenot not available, Lake Charles manager Charlie Phillips will probably pitch Trey Quinn, who fired a no-hitter against Jeffersonville, Ind.
"It's hard to believe we're here on the final weekend," he said. "They are doing a super job. We're happy to be in the position we're in. These kids continue to play hard and do a good job."
Against Florida on Thursday, Fontenot allowed only two hits in 5 2/3 innings and struck out 11. His teammates provided plenty of support, scoring three in the second inning and added another in the third on a Bryce Jordan homer.
The winner will play against the winner of Mexico and Japan in the World Series championship game tomorrow in Lamade Stadium.
The Japanese champion has represented the International side in the last two World Series title games. The last time someone from Japan wasn't in the title game was 2005 as Ewa Beach's Michael Memea hit a walk-off home run in the seventh inning for a 7-6 Hawaii victory over Curacao.