Honolulu moved into the championship game of the Little League World Series with a dramatic 3-0 win over Peachtree Little League from Georgia today. The local kids will face South Korea on Sunday at 9 a.m. in a nationally televised game from South Williamsport, Pa.
The Hawaii team won the United States championship thanks to pitcher Aukai Kea’s dominant performance. He struck out 15 and didn’t allow a runner past first base. He and Georgia pitcher Connor Riggs-Soper were locked in a pitcher’s duel before the local kids broke through for one run in the fourth on a two-out single by pinch hitter John De la Cruz that plated Hunter Nishina.
Hawaii added two more runs in the sixth on a triple by Bruce Boucher that scored Sean Yamaguchi, who was issued an intentional pass with two outs. Boucher scored the third run on a single by Jace Souza. Hawaii will face South Korea, which beat Japan 2-1, at 9 a.m. The game will be shown live on KITV.
Kea said after the game that his team woke up to the news that Hurricane Lane had been downgraded to a tropical storm and that set the ball in motion.
“I just played my heart out,” Kea said. “Playing for them always and this is what happened.”
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Hawaii’s pitching has been dominant the entire series. In Hawaii’s four wins, three are by shutout, including two over Georgia, a team that didn’t score a run in 17 innings vs. the Honolulu pitchers. Hawaii’s team ERA is a stellar 0.43. Korea counters with a team ERA of 0.48 in its four wins on the International side of the bracket. Both teams are undefeated entering the championship affair.
“This group is great,” Kea said. “We always played against each other, but this season we came together, we just meshed. We just meshed like that. We just have a lot of fun.”
Nobody has more fun than infielder Yamaguchi. He has become the spokesman for this team, the go-to-guy for a quote, and he didn’t disappoint during the postgame interviews.
”We’re not a team, we’re a family,” Yamaguchi said. “We always stick together and we play as hard as we can. We’re looking forward to seeing all the fans and stuff. All we wanted to see back home was all that mountain and the people on the mountain.”
Hawaii put pressure on Georgia throughout the game before breaking through with a run in the fourth. The local kids threatened in the first after Kea smacked a one-out single to center and went to third on a throwing error by Georgia second baseman Willis Maginnis after he knocked down a hard-hit ball by Boucher. Boucher wound up on second after Maginnis’ underhanded throw skied over first baseman Jansen Kenty’s head. That brought up Souza, who grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning. His biggest fan, former Hawaii head coach June Jones, was in the stands cheering him on.
Georgia got its leadoff runner on in the second on a sharp single to left by Chase Fralick. Kea picked up his fourth strikeout and then watched a nifty around-the-horn double play turned by third baseman Ka’olu Holt to Yamaguchi at second and on to Mana Lau Kong at first to end the top half of the second.
Hawaii put two more on during its half of the second on a leadoff single down the right-field line by Taylin Oana, his first hit of the series. He went to second on a passed ball. Tanner Chun then walked. But Kong flied out to center to end the inning.
Georgia got another baserunner in the third on a two-out walk, but Kea squashed Peachtree’s brief hopes by striking out Maginnis to end Georgia’s third.
Georgia led off the fourth with a sharp single to right by Tai Peete, his first hit off Hawaii in the series. But he stayed down there and watched Kea strike out the next three hitters to end the threat. He also singled in the sixth to get two of Georgia’s three hits.
Hawaii finally broke through with a run in the fourth, despite the first two batters striking out. Pinch hitter Nishina hit a bloop fly ball to the left side of the Georgia infield that shortstop Peete and third baseman Jack Ryan couldn’t locate, Nishina hustling it into a double.
Nishina came around to score on De la Cruz’s single that skipped off the glove of Maginnis and into right to make it 1-0. Pinch hitter Zachary Won launched a bomb to center that Bo Walker somehow tracked down to end the inning. But Kea had all he would need.
“I am very proud of this team and our kids have really enjoyed this moment, this time,” manager Gerald Oda said. “This is for everyone back home.”