PONY League state tournament: Kona runs to Mustang championship
HILO — Being 9 years old and all, Kona’s Lil Soljahs don’t pay much attention to the past.
They’re much too busy creating new memories.
The Mustang 9s authored their own piece of history Monday, scripting their comeback tale with a storybook 13-run fifth inning fitting for a team headed to the land where dreams come true.
Kona marched past Mililani, Oahu, 14-6, bringing home a state PONY League title that is possibly the first of its kind and most assuredly a one-of-a-kind. A West Hawaii team had never won a state PONY title in any age group, according to records that date back to 1994.
“Wow. These kids never quit. They amaze me,” coach Kallen Hiraishi said. “We never talked about history. They just wanted to go to Disneyland.”
Trailing 6-1, Kona’s first 13 batters in the fifth inning reached and scooted around the bases as Kona turned Walter Victor Stadium into their personal magic kingdom.
“We played like this was our last game,” Kupaa Elarionoff said. “I felt like we were going score and score and score, and we did.
“I thought it was going to last forever.”
After finishing 3-0 in the five-team tournament, Lil Soljahs, who draw players from Kailua-Kona, Kohala and Waimea, advance to the PONY World Series in Walnut, California, July 25-28.
“We have to play harder than when we (represented) Kona,” Tavin Hiraishi said. “We’re playing for the whole the state.”
Tookie Hook started on the mound for the third consecutive game and earned his second victory at the tournament by working five strong innings, the maximum allowed. Three Kona errors led to two unearned runs in the third.
Hook’s two-run home run in the fifth, his second at states, gave Kona the spark it needed.
“The key was not striking out,” Tavin Hiraishi said.
Mililani’s Isaac Rodrigues was stingy through four innings, allowing only a run in the fourth when Keanu Alokoa walked, moved to second on Ioane Kaaekuahiwi’s hit and scored on Mana Fujihara’s groundout.
Kona worked over three relievers in the fifth.
“I told them everybody needed to get a hit, and everybody got a hit. They finally listened to us,” Kallen Hiraishi said. “Everybody contributed.”
That’s a fact.
Tavin Hiraishi singled in what would be the first of his three at-bats in the fifth, and Elarionoff doubled him home.
When Hook hit a deep blast to center field, Kona trailed 6-4, and it was just getting started.
“Everybody was confident we were going to win,” said Lopaka Akau, who delivered a run-scoring single in the fifth. “The bench never got quiet.”
Kona sent 19 batters to the plate and 10 had hits — two apiece by Jake Bannister and Elarionoff.
Kaaekuahiwi, who finished 4 for 4, contributed a pair of RBI singles in the fifth, and Logan Neves drove in runs in both of his at-bats. Kona was aided when Mililani made its first three errors of the game.
Elarionoff (3 for 4, two doubles) closed out Mililani in the sixth, and afterward he was set to enjoy the fruits of his labor after being rewarded with candy, nuts and seemingly every other goodie under the sun.
“These are the prizes of awesomeness,” he said.
The other members of Lil Soljahs are Braeden Samura, Brody Hartley and Brock Walters.
Kallen Hiraishi, a former three-sport standout at Konawaena High, is assisted by his father, Jerry Hiraishi, and Phillip Fujihara.
Kona 000 1(13) x — 14 15 4
Mililani 002 130 — 6 6 3