Game 30
Southwest 5
 vs. West 7

Saturday, August 23, 2008
3:30 PM ET


Aloha, Mexico!
A wild six-run sixth inning vaults Hawaii over Louisiana, 7-5, and into the Little League Baseball World Series Championship for the first time since 2005

By Allie Weinberger
Special Correspondent

After months of competition and travel, weeks of tournament play in Williamsport and years of dreaming of this very moment, it all came down to this. Down 5-1 with just one inning left to play, the Waipoi, Hawaii Little Leaguers knew they had to dig deeper than they ever had before.

Meanwhile, just three simple outs stood between the Lake Charles, Louisiana Little Leaguers and a chance at ultimate glory. Everyone but Hawaii considered the game all but over – the outcome was decided. But the champions of the West weren’t about to let those three little outs be easy.

Doubt filled every nook of Howard J. Lamade Stadium as Tanner Tokunaga stepped into the batter’s box.

Crack! A single leapt off his bat and into left field. A double to the same place followed off the hands of Pikai Winchester to put two runners in scoring position for Iolana Akau.

Louisiana closer Gunner Leger wouldn’t be scared off. He looked down to home and delivered. Akau saw it, and ripped the offering into centerfield to plate Hawaii’s second run, making it 5-2.

Starting hurler Khade Paris came to the plate for the first out, an out that also allowed Winchester to come around to score and Akau to take third.

Caleb Duhay took Leger for another RBI single up the middle, narrowing the deficit to just a single run, 5-4.

With runners on first and second, Leger got opposing pitcher Trevor Ling to strikeout, leaving a showdown between Leger and catcher Keelen Obedoza. A five-pitch walk loaded the bases for leadoff hitter Christian Donahue.

An air of, is this really happening? loomed over the crowd, over the field.

“It obviously didn’t look too good through that fifth inning,” said Hawaii skipper Timo Donahue. “We do pretty good against lefties, but we were down. There’s something I tell these guys all the time – as long as we are within a grand slam, anything can happen.”

And with a new pitcher, Peyton McLemore, on the mound, that anything he spoke of did happen. A sharp grounder flew off the bat of Donahue to Leger, who had moved to first base. It looked as though the game had ended when he knocked it down and looked to make that final, fateful out.

But it was not to be. Leger lost the ball underneath him. Scrambling to find it, he couldn’t stop Donahue from beating it out. As the tying run came around to score, Donahue hopped up and down on the first-base bag.

“When I saw him bobble the ball I just started running harder,” Donahue said after the game.

“Just like Coach Timo said, we’re gonna get to this guy. And then they took him out,” said Tokunaga. “And then we got to the other guy.”

Tokunaga came up to bat again, knocking a double into left field to score two more runs, pushing the score to 7-5, a score that would not change, in favor of the Hawaii side moving into the bottom of the sixth.

“In the dugout, you never want to panic,” said Louisiana manager Charlie Phillips. “You never want to let them think you don’t believe in them and that you don’t have confidence in them. It is a helpless feeling in the dugout.”

But in the bottom half of the sixth, the outs did come easy, as Ling got the Louisiana hitter to strike out and the next two to hit into two groundouts to close out the game for a 7-5 final.

It was a moment of emotion, both of joy and sadness, greater than any 12-year-old could have imagined on the day he first set foot in South Williamsport.

“Baseball’s baseball,” said Charlie Phillips. “It doesn’t matter when you go through an inning like that, you always feel the same after. It’s just that emotions are a little bit higher today.”

“Heading into that inning – I think they had a four run lead – pretty much seemed like they were coming out of the game, and then to see it slip away on a string of I don’t know how many hits,” said Donahue. “If I was in Charlie’s shoes, I would have felt pretty good with three outs to go and four runs, but that’s why this game is played, because anything can happen.”

Hawaii first put pressure on Quinn in the third inning, when stud slugger Winchester dumped an RBI single into shallow centerfield to score the game’s first run.

With a 1-0 lead, Paris took his one-hitter into the bottom of the fourth to face the heart of the Louisiana lineup. Back-to-back walks to lead off the home half of the frame ended Paris’s day on the mound in favor of Tokunaga.

“Khade did what he could for us, he kept us in there,” said manager Donahue. “I think he did a hell of a job for us.”

Tokunaga struggled pitching out of the stretch, giving up a two-run single to Bryce Jordan that carried into centerfield. Jordan moved to third on the throw home. Nicholas Abshire followed up Jordan’s hit with a lace up the middle of his own, plating Jordan to take a 3-1 lead. Tokunaga would issue two more walks before striking out the side.

But the Louisiana Little Leaguers had done their damage, batting around and needing just six more outs to earn the state’s first ever trip to the Little League World Series title game.

Fontenot made it 4-1 in the fifth with a solo home run to right centerfield. Beau Jordan’s fluky double turned into the Southwest’s fifth run after twin brother Bryce Jordan moved him to third on a deep flyout and Abshire came through with his second RBI single of the day.

But eventual winning hurler Ling, who relieved Tokunaga with one out in the inning, got Hawaii out of the inning without any further damage.

And just as Louisiana and a stadium full of 22,700 fans thought the battle was over, the Waipoi Little Leaguers came through with their six-run sixth inning.

“I know how they feel,” said Phillips. “I know how it feels to win, I know how it feels to lose, and they have a great future ahead of them. This can’t define them and I pretty much told them don’t let this moment define you. Without every one of those kids we would have never gotten here.

“The hurt,” he continued, “it doesn’t just go away. But I’ll tell you what – there are 6,298 teams that wished they felt that today.”

With the 7-5 win, Hawaii now moves on to the Main Event – the Little League Baseball World Series Championship, where they will face off against the International Champions from Matamoros, Tamaulipas Mexico, Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

“I knew they were a great team and I knew they deserved to play tomorrow for a championship,” said Phillips of the Hawaii squad. “I liked them a lot, I like their attitude, I like their effort and they just scrap and play hard. I’m proud for them, they deserved it, they earned it.”

“These guys are showing that they have it in them, that never-give-up attitude,” said Donahue. “And though it did look bleak in the last inning, that attitude came out of them. Hopefully they can pull out one more win in their last game as 12-year-old Little Leaguers.”


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