Spell defense with an A-K-A-U
Both the West champs for Waipio Little League and the Mid-Atlantic champs from Toms River National proved why they say defense wins championships. But which one earned the right to try to play for one in Sunday’s win-or-go-home game?
Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Sunday, August 22, 2010, 2:00 pm ET
Solo home runs accounted for three of the game’s four runs while fielders
all over the diamond made some spectacular grabs in Sunday afternoon’s
win-or-go-home elimination game between the West and the Mid-Atlantic, but it
was Hawaii who ultimately won out, taking a 3-1 victory over the Toms River
National Little League at Howard J. Lamade Stadium to stay alive in the 2010
Little League Baseball World Series.
With the game tied at 1-1, the West champs took over the lead for good in the top half of the third with the only small ball score of the day, when Kahoea Akau led off with a single through the gap. Moving into scoring position on a fielder’s choice, Akau would find himself just 60 feet from a 2-1 advantage after starting pitcher Shiloh Baniaga hit an infield single with one out.
So when Kaimana Bartolome hit into a fielder’s choice and the Toms River shortstop went right to second for the force play, Akau took off for home, scoring easily and bringing a one-run edge to his dugout.
But before Hawaii was able to take over the lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish, neither team could get a firm handle on the momentum, as it see-sawed between the champs from the Mid-Atlantic and the ones from the West throughout the opening frames.
In the top of the first with two quick outs against his team, Baniaga helped himself and the Waipio All-Stars before ever taking the mound, lifting a no-doubter to the lawn chairs on the left field hill to get the scoring started. The solo shot gave the West a 1-0 lead with New Jersey coming to bat.
“It felt good,” said Baniaga. “It made me feel more confident, and I knew I had this game.”
But Blum would even the score on Baniaga’s third toss of the day with a homer of his own out of the leadoff spot, this one to straightaway centerfield.
“That was a really good hit as far as the home run from their leadoff batter,” said Hawaii manager Brian Yoshii. “I think Shiloh threw the ball where we wanted him to and he just hit it long.”
After regaining the lead at 2-1 in the third frame, the Waipio Little Leaguers would tack on another run in the fifth, a monster leadoff homer to right-center field off the bat of Ty DeSa. But they wouldn’t need it, thanks to a stellar defensive play from Akau with just one out in the bottom of sixth – an out that could have changed the tide of the game.
With one on and one out, pinch hitter Zach Burns connected for what seemed destined to be a bloop single over Akau’s head at second base to put two on with one out.
But with a towering leap from one of the tournament’s most physically diminutive players – at 4-foot-11 and 86 pounds, he is the smallest on the Waipio team and among the smallest in the Series overall – Akau touched back down with the second out securely in his glove. So securely, in fact, it was rather stuck there.
“At first, the ball was hit pretty hard so I was kinda nervous,” he said. “But I knew I could make [the play] because I’ve made plays like that before. And the ball got stuck in my glove.”
“Nine out of 10 times, that play is not made,” said Toms River manager Paul Deceglie. “That changes the outcome of this game.”
But that was far from the only display of defensive prowess from these two teams in the affair.
“I think we had six or seven of those [go against us] today,” Deceglie said. “Any one of those a foot a different way and it’s a different game.”
There was also the sliding catch from Bartolome in right field that kept the Mid-Atlantic’s Russell Petranto off the basepath in the bottom of the first. Then there was another defensive spectacle from Akau – the first of the game from the second baseman – a batter later, when he snagged a sinking liner just before it touched down on the infield dirt for the second out of the frame.
Or, there was the impressive double play turned in the bottom of the fifth.
But don’t forget about the show the Toms River defense put on in the tightly contested affair, none more impressive than left fielder Joey Rose’s play of the game – possibly of the tournament – in the top of the final inning.
With one out and runners in scoring position, DeSa, who had homered for Hawaii in his last plate appearance, lofted a ball deep but well into foul territory. Not satisfied to let the ball drop and prolong the life the Waipio All-Stars in the batter’s box, Rose sprinted toward the orb’s earthly destination, tracking it all the way to the tarp, where he reached over the obstacle to make the grab and the second out of the frame.
But when Brysen Yoshii took off from third to try to add another run for the West champs, Rose fired a rope from deep in the recesses of foul territory right into the glove of catcher Jeff Ciervo, who applied the tag and withstood a collision at the plate to gun down the runner, save a score and get the Mid-Atlantic All-Stars out a serious jam.
“I give credit to them – that was a tough play,” said Yoshii. “If I were the third base coach, I would have sent [the runner] also, because that’s a difficult play. They made a very hard play there.”
“They’re a great team and they make those kind of plays. They make things happen,” said Deceglie of his side. “Going over the tarp, throwing a strike to home, Jeff Ciervo holding on to the ball — that was a major league play. And I’ve seen so many of those with this team.”
In fact, he had just seen another from his team, when in the top of the fourth, pinch hitter Justice Nakagawa looked to have put runners on first and second with a single into shallow right. But a quick glove and an accurate slide from replacement rightfielder Billy Lumi foiled the effort, scooping up the would-be hit and sending the runner scurrying back to first.
But the inning wasn’t over.
With runners already on first and second two hitters later, Hawaii’s Ezra Heleski laid down a strong bunt right on the third base line, one that had sacrifice written all over it. But a quick Rose, playing third base at the time, sprinted down the line to meet it. Shortstop Patrick Marinaccio read the play and entered a footrace with Hawaii’s Noah Shackles, beating out the baserunner, handling the near-perfect toss and getting a huge out at third to take away the West’s lead runner.
And pitcher Michael Tiplady didn’t let the big play go unrewarded, closing out the inning on the next at-bat with a called strike three.
“Michael Tiplady did a great job today,” said Deceglie. “I’m just really proud of all these kids. I know they’re a little down in the dumps right now, but in a half hour they’ll be fine, I know it.”
And they have nothing to be sad about after a game that seemingly brought out the best in both sides.
“It was a great run,” Deceglie told his squad after the game. “You guys should keep your heads up high. We played a very very great game, and Hawaii had an excellent game.”
“[Our kids are] always feeling like they’re gonna do their best,” echoed Yoshii, “so when they come in[to a game], they’re gonna give it all they have and that’s the spirit that they have, and their heart.”
Baniaga earned the win with a three-hit, six-strikeout effort, allowing a single run in five innings of work. Dane Kaneshiro got the save, his first of the tournament, issuing just a walk and fanning one in a 15-pitch sixth.
“We have three really great pitchers, and [Dane] as the obvious choice to come in,” Yoshii said. “He’s very poised and we’ve put him in this situation before, so he’s very calm and confident out there.
“I have tremendous confidence in these pitchers,” he continued. “[Shiloh] did a great job – held them to one run and three hits. [I have] absolute confidence in all their stuff.”
And even though Hawaii got the win, they still have a long road ahead if they want to advance into the U.S. Semifinals.
“I feel very good about having Dane start in our next game,” Yoshii said, looking forward. “From then on, I have some other pitchers that I feel pretty good about too. If you haven’t noticed, our game is defense and pitching — that’s what keeps us in the game.”
Toms River will play its final contest Tuesday afternoon against Saudi Arabia in a crossover consolation game at Lamade Stadium. Waipio will take on the loser of Monday night’s battle between the Great Lakes and the Southeast, who the West has already lost to once this Series, in yet another elimination situation.
“Treat every game going forward as a championship game, because that’s what it is,” Yoshii said. “It’s one game and out. We have to go into each game leaving everything on the field, going all out… with no regrets.”