Aiea downs defending LLWS champs


POSTED: Friday, July 24, 2009
This story has been corrected. See below.

One swing of the bat and one turn of the cap.

That's what it was all about yesterday for the Aiea Little League all-stars. The host team at the state tournament knocked off three-time defending champion Waipio 1-0 at the Aiea Recreation Center Annex.

Aiea plays Maui at 11 a.m. today in the winner's bracket of the tournament that continues through Sunday's championship game.

In an earlier elimination game yesterday, Kailua hung on to oust Hilo 9-8.

Kailua has a rematch against Waipio in another loser-out game today at 2 p.m. Waipio blanked Kailua 5-3 on Wednesday.

Yesterday, Aiea's pivotal swing by Westin Saito came with two outs and two strikes in the top of the fifth.

“;All I was thinking was, 'I gotta get a hit,'”; the soft-spoken Saito said after the game. “;I thought I was going to strike out. When I hit it, I thought it was a pop-up, then I saw it go over the fence. I think it was the wind.”;

Saito's blast to straight-away center broke the scoreless tie and, thanks to some tough defense and gutsy relief pitching, it held up for green-clad Aiea.

Waipio — with no holdovers from the team that went all the way to the Little League World Series title in South Williamsport, Pa., last year — had runners on second and third in the fifth and loaded the bases in the sixth, but couldn't score.

Aiea reliever Jansen Kudaishi — all 4-feet-6 and 63 1/2 pounds of him — pitched part of both innings. He got out of the jam in the fifth and got into trouble in the sixth with two hit batsmen.

Still, Kudaishi didn't budge and got two outs before giving way to Hunter Yara, who got the pressure-packed final out to save the victory for starter Spencer Nakaoka.

When asked how he made it through Waipio's two threatening innings, Kudaishi answered with ease. He took his cap off, pointed to the inside of the bill and read the team's motto:

“;Never give up,”; he said.

Saito's homer ruined what was otherwise a masterful performance by Waipio pitcher Lene Manuma, who struck out seven, didn't walk a batter and finished with a three-hitter in the loss.

“;I left that pitch up high,”; said Manuma, who was still brushing away tears 15 minutes after the game. “;If I hadn't done that, it probably wouldn't have been a homer and they probably wouldn't have scored.”;

Waipio coach Ross Yamaguchi is trying to figure out how to get his team's offense going.

“;You can't win if you don't score runs,”; he said. “;Maybe the kids have to relax a bit more.”;

Manuma can't believe Waipio isn't hitting better.

“;We're supposed to be hitting shots,”; he said. “;We've had a lot of strikeouts looking and we can't have that or else we're going to lose.”;

Manuma had a 3-0 count on him with the bases loaded in the final at-bat of the game. Yara put a fastball down the middle for the first strike and Manuma hit the next pitch to shallow right before Saito ran in to snag it and end the game.

“;We want to go to (the West regional in) San Bernardino. We have to play with heart and integrity,”; said Saito, who coach George Yara describes as “;quiet, humble and always pleasant.”;

Yara has his kids focused on what's important and that's why he has forbidden any of his players to use hand-held electronic game equipment in their spare time.

“;It messes with their depth perception and we want them staying off that couch potato stuff,”; Yara said.

He's also got a recipe for the states and beyond: “;We'll count on our pitching and our defense and on the kids just having fun.”;





        » Keahi Denne-Kimi hit a home run for Hilo in a loss to Kailua in the Little League state championships. A story on Page 58 yesterday said Joshua Breitbarth hit the home run. Also, Waipio beat Kailua 5-3, not 5-0 as was reported in the same story.