SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. » Two years ago, Waipio won the Little League World Series championship. And while there are no players remaining from that team on this year’s 11- and 12-year-old All-Star team, the tradition of winning big games apparently has been passed down.
Last night, manager Brian Yoshii told his team what it would take to get the No. 1 seed in the West Region pool. Then Waipio went out and grabbed it, rolling to a suffocating 7-0 win against North Scottsdale, Ariz., behind the hitting and pitching of Shiloh Baniaga.
The win created a three-way tie among Waipio, Northern California champion Napa Valley and Southern California champion Ocean View Little League in the six-team pool.
By holding North Scottsdale to fewer than three runs — something Yoshii told his team it needed to do to land the No. 1 spot — Waipio won the run-differential tiebreaker and will be seeded first for tomorrow’s semifinals.
It will get a favorable rematch with North Scottsdale at 5 p.m. Hawaii time on ESPN2. Napa National and Ocean View will battle it out in the other semifinal at 11 a.m. HST, also on ESPN2. The winners meet at 2 p.m. HST Sunday with a berth to Williamsport, Pa., on the line.
"We didn’t come here to be No. 2," the soft-spoken Baniaga said. "We wanted to be No. 1."
Spoken like someone coming from a winning program.
Baniaga, whose brother Shayne played on the 2005 LLWS championship team from West Oahu, was electric against North Scottsdale. He allowed four hits and struck out nine in 4 1/3 innings. He also hit a two-run home run to cap a three-run first inning that got Waipio rolling.
"What can you say? He did it all," Yoshii said. "You couldn’t ask for anything more."
Said North Scottsdale manager Joe Forster: "I tip my hat to that performance. That’s a very good baseball team we lost to."
Forster also knew what he needed to do. If he lost, his team needed to hold Waipio to 11 runs or fewer to win the tiebreaker for fourth place. It was 4-0 after Ke’olu Ramos led off the second with a home run, and Forster was forced to bring in ace-left hander Dylan Cole to stem the tide.
"I got put into a different position of trying to coach for survival," Forster said. "I had to put Dylan in to stop the bleeding, and he gutted it out for us."
Waipio belted a tournament-high 10 hits, with Kaho’ea Akau going 2-for-4 with a double and Kaimana Bartolome going 2-for-3.
"I’ve wanted to get more at-bats for the kids because it’s taken some time to adjust," Yoshii said. "But if we keep getting games like the one Shiloh pitched tonight, we’re going to be OK."
Yoshii still is wary about a rematch tomorrow night, though Cole is ineligible to throw because he threw 70 pitches.
"We’ve faced great pitching here," Yoshii said. "Arizona is good. But any team can beat anybody else. We’ve seen it here."
Added Forster: "A 7-0 loss is not a 7-0 loss to a bunch of 12-year-olds who are about to play a baseball game on ESPN2. You should have seen their reaction when they found out they made it. They were pretty excited."