Maui all-stars stay on title track


POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nicholas Asuncion hit his spots and hit a shot yesterday.

The burly pitcher led the Central Maui all-stars to a 10-2 victory over host Aiea at the Little League State Tournament at the Aiea Recreation Center Annex.

“;It was a crucial game, with the winner going to the championship game, so we knew we had to play our best to get a good outcome,”; Asuncion said.

With the victory, the undefeated visitors from the Valley Isle advance to tomorrow's 11 a.m. championship game. Maui awaits the winner of the loser's bracket game between Aiea and Waipio scheduled for 11 a.m. today.

Yesterday, Waipio kept its hopes alive to defend its Little League World Series title by beating Kailua 16-2. Shiloh Baniaga and Tyler Yamaguchi homered for Waipio.

“;I'm speechless right now, to tell you the truth,”; said Maui coach Glenn Yonashiro, whose team punched out 10 hits, including three homers. “;We've got some really good hitters, but I don't want to seem cocky.

“;We're out here trying to represent our island in the best way we can. Some days you get lucky.”;

Luck may have had a little to do with it. Asuncion told Yonashiro that the “;garlic worked.”;

All of the Central Maui players and coaches carried in their pockets a small packet made of yarn with various ingredients inside, including garlic, courtesy of catcher Joshua Nobriga's parents.

The victory also had a lot to do with some potent bats. Noah Apolo got things rolling with a first-inning, three-run moon shot to left field. Chazz Ishikawa followed with a two-run blast to right in the second for a 5-0 lead.

After Aiea rallied to make it 5-2 in the bottom of the second, Asuncion put the victory in the bank with a grand slam to left center as part of a five-run fifth.

“;I was thinking, 'Gotta get a hit and get some insurance runs,'”; Asuncion said. “;At that point, Aiea could have come back easily.”;

On the mound, Asuncion allowed four hits in 4 2/3 innings. Despite six walks, he hit the corners when he needed to and finished with five strikeouts.

“;Strikes are the key,”; he said. “;Accuracy is what it's all about, not being fast. I was trying to keep it out of their wheelhouse on the inside and the outside.”;

One more win and Central Maui is headed to San Bernardino, Calif., for the West regional and a shot at becoming the third team (joining West Oahu in 2005 and Waipio in 2008) from Hawaii to win a Little League World Series championship at South Williamsport, Pa.

“;We try to keep them grounded and not talk about that, just focus on the next game,”; Yonashiro said.

Due to the loss, the road to a possible state title got a lot tougher for Aiea, which was coming off a 1-0 victory over Waipio on Thursday.

“;All it means is we've got more games,”; coach George Yara said. “;I still feel like we've got a good chance, but Maui is sitting pretty. Like we always tell the kids, 'Never give up.'”;

Catcher Hunter Yara, the coach's son and one of Aiea's leaders, lived those words by trying to create some spark despite a big deficit. In the fifth, he beat out an infield hit, and then stole second when Central Maui's throw back to Asuncion hit the ground. Yara, however, was tagged out at third trying to advance on a ground out.

“;I was thinking, 'Maybe I can make it and give us more of a chance to come back,'”; he said. “;Sadly, we didn't come back.”;

Yara also played third base and pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning. He fanned the last two batters he faced with a seldom-seen sidearm windup for the third strikes.

“;It's something pitching coach Steve (Nakamoto) was teaching in the regular season,”; he said. “;Thanks to him, it's been working. We lost, but now we get to challenge another team.”;