SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. » Noah Shackles didn’t pitch a bad game against Georgia the last time around despite the loss.
Yet, the Waipio starter felt like he let people down.
"The first time, I wasn’t there mentally," the Hawaii pitcher said. "I wasn’t focused enough. Focused like I should have been."
Yesterday, the youngster was dialed in.
Shackles held a powerful Georgia squad to four hits, striking out nine, and teammate Justice Nakagawa hit a three-run homer as Waipio fought off elimination from the Little League World Series with a 7-4 victory over Columbus, Ga.
The two teams will play again today. The winner takes on Pearland, Texas, tomorrow in the American final.
After having just one hit — a home run by Matthew Campos — on Wednesday in a come-from-behind victory over Ohio, Waipio brought the sticks to Lamade Stadium yesterday.
Shiloh Baniaga was 3-for-4, while teammate Kaimana Bartolome added two singles. In all, Waipio had 10 hits, and built a 5-0 lead after two innings.
"We talked to the kids about the embarrassment of only one hit," Waipio manager Brian Yoshii said. "It feels great to get the win. But we didn’t face (Jacob) Pate. They threw some pitchers that had lower velocity, and we were able to put the bat on the ball."
Georgia couldn’t do that against Shackles.
The slender pitcher was dominant. He struck out the side in the first, all called third strikes, and only allowed two hits through five innings.
"We fought hard, and we never gave up," Columbus manager Randy Morris said. "Shackles threw a good game. I thought that he did well the first time we played them. He’s too good to give him that much of a lead. It’s hard to come back when you do that."
The only rough patch Shackles hit was in the sixth, when Georgia scored on RBIs from Knox Carter and Kobie Buglioli. Another scored on a wild pitch.
After Shackles hit his 85 pitches, Yoshii turned to closer Keolu Ramos to finish it out.
"I thought that Noah did OK on Saturday, and today for that part," Yoshii said. "Tonight is the Noah that we know. He’s very poised. On Saturday, he wasn’t quite himself. It’s a big stage to pitch in, so you can’t blame him if there were some nerves. We were expecting the real Noah to show up and pitch for us."
Shackles’ teammates gave him enough support.
Waipio scored two in the second, on a run-scoring double by Dane Kaneshiro and a sacrifice fly to right by leadoff hitter Kaho’ea Akau.
The door was slammed shut in the third.
Bartolome ripped a one-out single to right, and Shackles was struck by one of Brandon Pugh’s pitches, putting two on. Nakagawa, entering for his first at-bat, drove an 0-2 pitch over the fence in center, giving Waipio a 5-0 lead.
"It felt very good because it was my first hit of the series," Nakagawa said, while his teammates were laughing in the background.
"This is the hit we’ve been waiting for," Yoshii said. "He’s a good hitter and a strong kid. We’ve been waiting on him to unload on one."
Hawaii tacked on insurance runs in the sixth, one on Baniaga’s third hit and another on Georgia’s lone error.
"This team will never quit," Morris said. "They will battle until the end. We’ll talk about it tonight and forget about it. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play. We just didn’t have a lot of intensity for whatever reason."
Today, Morris said he expects to pitch Pate, who touches near 77 mph on the radar gun. Pate held Hawaii to two runs — both scoring on a home run by Ty DeSa — in Saturday’s 6-2 victory that sent Waipio into the elimination bracket.
"Jacob is going to pitch. I just don’t know how much we’ll let him go," Morris said. "Our backs are kind of against the wall. To win the game, you have to be in the game."
Shackles is the lone Waipio pitcher not available. Yoshii said he will hand the ball to Baniaga, whom he called his "bulldog."