Game 26
West 9
Northwest 4

August 20, 2008
8:00PM ET

Island Warriors
Hawaii returns to the U.S. Championship Game for the first time since 2005 with a 9-4 win over Mill Creek, Washington in first of two U.S. Semifinals.

By Allie Weinberger
Special Correspondent

For the first time since 2005, Hawaii finds itself back in the baseball spotlight.

Four home runs, including two from slugger Pikai Winchester, blasted Waipahu, Hawaii to a 9-4 win over Mill Creek, Washington Wednesday night at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, earning them a first-class ticket into Saturday’s U.S. Championship faceoff at the 2008 Little League Baseball World Series.

Despite both teams coming out to a quick start – they combined for six runs in the first inning alone – the bats of the West outlasted an 11-strikeout game for the Northwest, vaulting them into a bout for the top spot in the U.S.

“It’s sad that one of us had to lose,” said Hawaii skipper Timo Donahue. “Those guys are good guys over there.”

It was two costly errors, both followed by a long ball, that took four runs from the Washington side in the bottom of the opening frame. The first two-run homer came off the bat of Tanner Tokunaga, who took Derrick Mahlum’s 0-1 offering over the hedge in left center, and the second came from pinch hitter Iolana Akau, who sent the ball to dead centerfield.

“When I got to bat, I was kind of nervous,” said Akau, who was playing in his first game since getting hit by a pitch in Hawaii’s opening game on Friday. “I just tried to get a base hit and it just came.”

The quartet of runs offset the pair knocked in by Washington in the top of the first, plated by Alex Jondal’s two-run double down the left field line.

Washington’s KJ Neaville cut the deficit to 4-3 with a towering shot over the centerfield hedge in the second, but the Mill Creek Little Leaguers weren’t able to capitalize on back-to-back walks issued by Hawaii starter Caleb Duhay.

The score remained 4-3 heading into the home half of the third, when Winchester gave Hawaii a two-run lead on the first pitch with his first of two home runs on the night. The shot was followed by back-to-back-to-back hits up the middle – the second two coming as doubles – knocking in two more for a 7-3 score at the end of three.

A wild pitch from Tokunaga with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth plated Northwest baserunner Casey Dawes before the hurler got out of the jam, striking out Jondal.

Up, 7-4, heading into the bottom of the fourth, the Waipoi Little League got their third two-run shot and fourth home run of the game, again off the bat of Winchester. The hit, which barely stayed fair down the left field line, made the score 9-4 in favor of the home side.

“He’s a great hitter,” Donahue said of Winchester. “I think he’s seeing the ball really well right now.”

“They’re just too good a team to [give up three unearned runs in the first],” said Washington manager Scott Mahlum. “I said they were the best team fundamentally – they were – and I think I also said Winchester was the best hitter here, and darn if he didn’t prove that tonight.

“I think we had as many hits as they had,” added Mahlum. “Unfortunately, they hit a few more out of the park.”

And while Washington got the Hawaii boys to go 1-2-3 to close out the fifth, it was too little too late, leaving them in need of five runs force the Waipoi Little Leaguers to bat again.

“They aren’t the biggest, they aren’t the strongest, they don’t throw the hardest, but they are fundamentally as solid as it gets,” said Mahlum. “Very impressive.”

The West sent Christian Donahue to the hill in the top of the sixth, with just three outs standing between them and Saturday’s U.S. Championship. The hurler delivered, striking out the side despite issuing a pair of walks.

Three Hawaii pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts in the nightcap, issuing six total walks while allowing seven Northwest hits. The West piled on eight hits of their own in five offensive frames, also striking out 11 times.

The Waipoi Little Leaguers scored in three of their five innings at the plate, belting home runs in each of the scoring frames. But the Mill Creek Little Leaguers aren’t leaving Williamsport with any bad feelings.

“Just be proud,” Mahlum told his boys after the game. “They’ve come a long way, they’re the first Mill Creek team to ever get [to the World Series].”

With the win, Hawaii moves on to face the winner of Thursday’s semi-final matchup between the Southwest champs from Lake Charles, Louisiana and the Southeast champs from Tampa, Florida for a chance to play in the Little League Baseball World Series Championship Sunday afternoon.

“The next time we take the field, there’s only going to be two U.S. teams left,” said Donahue, “and that in itself is saying a lot.”

2008, Little League Baseball Incorporated
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