HAWAII 14, EUGENE CHALLENGERS 3 AS HAWAII WINS PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGIONAL TITLE
EUGENE, OR. –— It was a very happy 43rd birthday for Waipahu coach Oly Gante, as his Hawaii state champions won a thrilling elimination game against the Wyoming state champions early Monday afternoon and then routed the host Eugene Challengers, 14-3, to win the championship game of the American Legion Pacific Northwest Regional baseball tournament Monday evening at Swede Johnson Stadium.
With the victory, Waipahu (23-4) defeats the Challengers in regionals for the second straight year and advances to the American Legion World Series, Aug. 16-20 in Shelby, N.C., for the second time in three years.
The Challengers, in the first regional final in program history, were stymied by Waipahu lefty Bryson Yasui and undone by their own defense, committing eight errors while mustering only six hits. They finish the season 28-32-1, just the fourth losing record in their 38 years; they host regionals again in 2014 in quest of the first World Series berth in program history.
Yasui, who pitches for Concordia Community College in California, retired the last 16 batters he faced after Ben Giland walked with two outs in the fourth inning. Backed by errorless defense, Yasui didn’t allow a hit after the third, and didn’t allow a hit to the outfield after Giland’s double with two outs in the second. In throwing 131 pitches, he struck out six, walked one and allowed only six hits.
When he wasn’t pitching in the tournament, Yasui played left-field, with eight hits in 17 trips for a .471 average with nine runs scored, and for that he was named tournament MVP.
“To tell you the truth, not my happiest birthday ever, but pretty damn close,” Gante said. “The boys did a helluva job out there. I’m speechless right now. … They just kept battling and they came through. I’m speechless.”
After rallying to defeat Cheyenne Post 6, 8-7, the Hawaii state champions fell behind the Challengers 2-0 and 3-1 but took control with a four-run fourth, capitalized on Eugene’s shaky defense in the middle innings, and won the game going away with a six-run ninth. The Hawaii champs’ great team speed put relentless pressure on the Eugene defense, which struggled throughout the season and which had several players out of position because of injuries.
Yasui, who had a rough start in Hawaii’s opening loss to Idaho Falls, capitalized on his second chance after Waipahu won four straight elimination games to reach the championship game.
“The first day he had a hard time locating pitches, but we knew it would all come down to him,” Gante said. “He battled and he did a hell of a job. He kept them off balance.”
So did Hawaii’s team speed and 16-hit offense.
“We just tell them to come out and have fun and just play the game like it’s supposed to be played,” Gante said. “They did that. You can’t ask for more. … We put the ball in play a lot, and we ran a lot and we put pressure on them and it worked. They made eight errors, so it worked in our favor.”
For the tournament, Waipahu scored 66 runs in six games and hit .408, compared with .300 by their opponents. Waipahu stole 18 bases in 24 attempts — opponents were 2-for-4 — and saw opponents commit 23 errors to its 14. Four Waipahu players finished with double-digit hits — center fielder Tanner Tokunaga and third baseman Brent Sakurai had 14 each, shortstop Reid Akau had 11 to hit .500 and right fielder Austin Inabata had 10 and a team-high seven RBI.
The host Challengers, home team for the first time on the their home field, took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Giland led off being hit by a pitch, and was forced at second on a bunt attempt by second baseman Andy Arruda. Shortstop Erik Long singled to right, sending Arruda to second, and the runners moved up a base when first baseman Joe Schindler grounded to second.
With two outs, starting pitcher Jordan Thompson lined a single to center that eluded the dive of Tokunaga, scoring both runners. Right fielder Cameron Jack singled to move Thompson to second, but third baseman Tommie Ahlstrom lined to short to end the inning.
Waipahu drew within 2-1 in the third. Akau singled to left, and left fielder Tyler Uchiyama blooped a single to right. Tokunaga was safe on a fielder’s choice, and Uchiyama was safe at second when Arruda dropped Long’s throw for an error. With the bases loaded, Sakurai forced Tokunaga at second to drive in Akau on the fielder’s choice and send Uchiyama to third. Sakurai stole second, but Thompson escaped further damage when designated hitter Austyn Nagamine lined out to Arruda, who threw to Long to double off Sakurai.
The Challengers answered for a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third. Long beat out a perfectly placed bunt single, Schindler sacrificed him to second and he moved to third on a wild pitch. With two outs, Jack’s dribbler up the third base line became an infield single, scoring Long.
Waipahu came back in the fourth, scoring four times to take a 5-3 lead, sending nine batters to the plate and taking advantage of three Eugene errors and two wild pitches.
Clean-up hitter Austin Inabata beat out an infield hit to start the frame and scored from first when second baseman Drake Yoshioka singled to center and the ball got past Bennett Chiongbian for an error, Yoshioka advancing to second. Catcher Kamalu Neal walked, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. First baseman Jaraad Salas popped to first, but Schindler dropped it for an error, Eugene’s second of the inning and third of the game, to load the bases.
A sacrifice fly to right by Akau scored Yoshioka to tie the game and sent Neal to third. Uchiyama singled to drive in Neal, Tokunaga reached on an error by Ahlstrom to load the bases again and Sakurai hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Salas with the second unearned run of the inning.
In the fifth, Inabata led off with a single, ending Thompson’s stint on the mound, as Schindler, Eugene’s ace who combined on a one-hitter in the opener Thursday night, moved to pitcher and Thompson moved to first base. Schindler got Yoshioka to hit into a force at second, and induced Neal into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
In the sixth, Waipahu threatened again when Salas singled and, with one out, Uchiyama hit his third single of the game, which got by Jack in right field for Eugene’s fifth error, sending the runners to third and second. Schindler struck out Tokunaga, and then Arruda made a sensational diving catch of Sakurai’s liner to end the inning and save two runs.
Waipahu took advantage of two more Challenger errors in the seventh to score two more unearned runs, this time without a hit, and up the lead to 7-3. Nagamine reached on a bobble by Long, Inabata walked and Yoshioka bunted them to third and second. Schindler struck out Neal for the second out, but when Thompson couldn’t handle Salas’ hard grounder for an error, Eugene’s seventh of the game, Nagamine scored and Inabata raced to third. Waipahu then literally stole a run, as Salas allowed himself to be trapped between first and second; when Schindler held the ball too long, Inabata stole home ahead of the throw and Salas stole second.
In the eighth, Tokunaga doubled to right, Sakurai walked, and with Tokunaga running on the pitch, Nagamine singled to left to score Tokunaga for an 8-3 lead.
Hawaii scored six more runs in the ninth, sending 11 batters to the plate to lead 14-3. Schindler left the mound in the ninth after giving up lead-off singles to Neal and Salas, and was replaced by Rowdy Huston, as Schindler moved to left, Hank Forrest to right and Jack to second base. Huston’s first batter, Akau, sacrificed and reached safely when Jack, covering first, dropped the throw for Eugene’s eighth error. Pinch hitter Tyler Enos was hit by a pitch to drive in one run, Tokunaga doubled in two more and Sakurai singled to score the fourth and fifth runs of the inning.
Huston struck out a pinch hitter for the first out, but a single and walk loaded the bases, and Huston was replaced by Danny Queirolo, who threw a wild pitch to score the final run before getting out of the inning against Hawaii pinch hitters
HAWAII 8, WYOMING 7
EUGENE, OR. -— In an elimination game between two truly resilient baseball teams, Waipahu of Hawaii was trailing by a run and down to its last strike twice in the top ninth inning before rallying for an 8-7 victory over Cheyenne Post 6 in the American Legion Pacific Northwest Regional on Monday at Swede Johnson Stadium.
The victory advanced Waipahu (22-4) to face the host Eugene Challengers later Monday in the regional championship game, for a berth in the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., Aug. 16.
The Wyoming state champions (53-25), who had trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the seventh, had scored three in the seventh to tie and another in the eighth to take a 6-5 lead. In the top of the ninth, Cheyenne relief pitcher Mason Munford quickly retired the first two Waipahu batters and had a 2-2 count on cleanup hitter Austin Inabata when his next pitch narrowly missed for a full count. Inabata walked on the 3-2 pitch and advanced to third on a single by second baseman Drake Yoshioka.
Yoshioka stole second, and left-fielder Bryson Yasui, down to his last strike, roped a single to left to score both runners and give Waipahu the lead. A hit batter and an infield single loaded the bases, and Yasui scored the third run of the inning on a wild pitch for an 8-6 lead.
That run proved to be the difference as Post 6 scored in the bottom of the ninth, a rally started on singles by second baseman Tracy Calahan and shortstop Cameron Johnson off Hawaii reliever Brent Sakurai. A sacrifice bunt by Dixon Maggard moved runners to second and third, and an infield grounder by Brian Lopez scored Calahan as Lopez reached first on the high throw by shortstop Reid Akau.
On a 3-2 count, pinch-hitter Isaac Block hit a grounder to Akau, who tossed to second baseman Drake Yoshioka for the second out. As Johnson was crossing the plate with what would have been the tieing run, Yoshioka’s relay to first completed the double play, ending the game. Block appeared to some observers to have beat the throw, and the call was vociferously disputed by the Wyoming coaches.
The Hawaii state champions took a 2-0 lead against Cheyenne starter Charlie O’Grady in the third inning. First baseman Jaraad Salas was hit by a pitch and sacrificed to second by Akau. O’Grady got the next batter on a groundout, but pitcher Tanner Tokunaga lined a single up the middle for Waipahu’s first hit to score Salas. Tokunaga promptly stole second and third baseman Sakurai followed with another single to center to drive in Tokunaga.
In the fourth inning, the Wyoming state champions turned to relief pitcher Tyler Lambert to replace O’Grady and Waipahu upped its lead to 3-0. Yoshioka hit a one-out single to left, advanced to second and third on wild pitches, and scored on a two-out double to center by Salas.
Cheyenne closed to within 3-2 with a pair of unearned runs in the fourth. Johnson reached on an error by Akau, was forced at second by Maggard and scored on a booming two-out double to right-center by designed hitter Isaac “Big Country” Taylor, the first hit off Tokunaga. First baseman Dustin Parker followed with a single to right, and Taylor scored as the ball got past right fielder Austin Inabata for an error, Parker taking second. Center fielder Greg Ashley got Cheyenne’s third straight hit, a single to right, but Inabata threw out Parker at the plate on a close play to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Lambert pitched out of jams in the fifth and sixth to keep Post 6 close. With runners on second and third and one out in the fifth, he struck out catcher Austyn Nagamine and got Inabata, the cleanup hitter, to bounce out to shortstop. With runners again on second and third in the sixth, he got center fielder Dylan Sugimoto to hit a foul pop to third to end the inning.
Tokunaga himself pitched out of trouble in the sixth, throwing a called strike three by Parker with runners on the corners.
Waipahu’s great team speed produced another run in the seventh. Tokunaga struck out on a ball in the dirt, but catcher Logan Followell couldn’t come up with it right away and then made a hurried throw to first that sailed into right-field. Tokunaga raced to third, and Sakurai hit the first pitch into right field for a single to score Tokunaga for a 4-2 lead. That was the last batter for Lambert, replaced by Munford, who gave up a one-out double to Inabata that scored Sakurai from first for a 5-2 lead.
Post 6 hit three doubles in the seventh to roar back and tie the game 5-5. Ashley led off with a double to the 390-foot mark in left-center, but Tokunaga appeared to escape any damage with a pair of groundouts. However, Calahan doubled to right-center, on a ball that arguably could have been caught by center fielder Dylan Sugimoto — playing that position while Tokunaga pitched — to score Ashley, and Johnson followed with a drive to left-center that Sugimoto appeared to misplay for another double, scoring Calahan to bring the Cheyenne team within a run.
The next batter, Maggard, lined sharply to right field for a single in front of Inabata, and coach Tagg Lain was holding Johnson at third, mindful that Inabata had already thrown out one player at the plate, when the ball got by Inabata for an error that allowed Johnson to scamper home with the tieing run.
Waipahu threatened against Munford in the eighth when Sugimoto walked with two outs and took second on a single by Tokunaga. But with Sakurai batting, Munford picked off Sugimoto to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Sakurai moved to the mound, Tokunaga moved to center and Tyler Enos entered the game at third. Taylor led off with an infield single, was sacrificed to second by Parker and replaced by pinch runner Saul Alvarado. Another infield hit, this by Ashley, moved Alvarado to third, and he scored easily on a sacrifice fly to center by Followell for the go-ahead run, setting the stage for the dramatic and controversial ninth inning.