KAILUA-KONA — North Hawaii proved once again it was just too powerful for its Big Island Little League adversaries on Monday afternoon.
Trailing at the midway mark of the championship game against West Hawaii, North Hawaii rode an eight-run fourth inning to rip off a 16-6 win to take home the Minors division (8-10 year olds) title at Old Kona Airport Park, earning a trip to Oahu for the Little League state tournament.
According to team and tourney officials on-site, the victory was the first for North Hawaii in the Minors division. The squad — made up of players from Waikoloa, Waimea, Honokaa and Kohala — made its championship run in convincing fashion, going 3-0 during the tournament and winning the trio of games by a combined score of 51-10.
The championship tilt was a rematch of a weekend matchup, which North Hawaii bested West Hawaii 16-2.
“I don’t think we have ever been to states in Minors,” said North Hawaii head coach Waylon Salazar. “This is the first time for all I know. We are super excited.”
North Hawaii trailed 5-4 heading into the bottom of the third inning of the championship game after taking a 4-2 lead in the first inning.
In the bottom of the third, Rory Crabbe led off the inning with a single to right, but was forced out at second when Isaac Libron hit a grounder to the shortstop. With two outs, Kaikoa Nobriga reached on an error, allowing Libron to score. Nobriga then crossed the plate on a single by Chrys Coelho to give North Hawaii the lead. Tiras Perez also produced an RBI single for an insurance run.
The insurance run proved helpful as West Side continued to fight back, plating a run in the top of the fourth when Kekona Hooper singled to right and then pinch runner Noah Izawa-Okazaki later on a Kahiau Rivera sacrifice fly to center.
North Hawaii broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth. After Josyah Napoleon Umeda singled and Diesel Demello walked, Hapaki Moniz reached on an error by the first baseman, allowing both runners to score. Jared Galapir and Nobriga both singled, the latter knocking in a run. Kolden Acoran walked and then Jayden Salazar walked with the bases loaded to force in a run.
With the bases still juiced, Napoleon Umeda stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning and hit a rope over the head of the centerfielder. The bases cleared and Napoleon Umeda touched all three bags before sliding safely into home for an inside the park grand slam.
“When we were down I was a little worried, but at the same time I had faith in these kids,” Waylon Salazar said. “It was late, but sure enough, the bats came up.”
North Hawaii ended the game by the 10-run mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth when Nobriga singled to right, scoring Libron, who had reached base on a walk.
For Nobriga, who caught all three games, the championship was a tough game for him but he felt like he was able to pick himself up and help lead the team to victory.
“Today’s game was really hard for me because I made several mistakes, but I was able to pick myself up and not be sad about it,” Nobriga said. “I am excited to go to the state tournament.”
For Napoleon Umeda — the team’s center fielder, who also picked up a victory on the hill earlier in the week — this will be his fourth trip to states. He went twice with Lil’ Soljas.
“We could have done better, but we played well,” Napoleon Umeda said. “I am happy to go back to states. Even though I have went three times, I wanted to go again.”
West Side reached the championship game by dominating Hilo on Sunday. However, because they had lost to North Hawaii earlier in the tournament, they would need to take two games on Monday.
It looked good for the West Hawaii squad to force the winner-take-all game early on. The west side squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Rivera singled to left, scoring Izawa-Okazaki and Jai Gamagag, who had reached base on a fielder’s choice and a walk.
North Hawaii bounced back with four runs in the bottom of the frame, but West Side rebounded, pushing a run across the plate in the second and adding three more in the third by taking advantage of a few unusual throwing errors by the North Hawaii team.
But by not dwelling on the miscues and continually moving forward, North Hawaii showed hearts of champions on the way to the comeback win.
“We made a few mistakes and were behind, but I told the kids they have to wake up,” Salazar said. “The kids have big hearts and they battled.”