BANGOR — The thunder claps in the air just before Saturday’s Senior League World Series championship game seemed ominous for the 1,500 fans on hand and the national television audience awaiting play at Mansfield Stadium.
But they were little more than a sign of things to come for the U.S. West champions from Hilo, Hawaii, where it rains on average 275 days per year.
The thunder waned and the precipitation held off but the Big Islanders’ bats were as loud as Mother Nature ever was, churning out eight runs on 12 hits during the first three innings in support of pitcher Quintin Torres-Costa as Hawaii rolled past the Rose Capital East Little League of Tyler, Texas, 11-1 in five innings.
“Our hitting came through, our pitching came through, we turned the plays to get the outs, everything fell into place,” said Hawaii manager Kaha Wong. “Not taking anything away from Texas, but this was our day today.”
The win capped an undefeated 16-game run through tournament play for Hilo, which finished 6-0 during the weeklong Senior League World Series.
The Hilo program, which also won the SLWS title in 2003, became the first to win multiple titles in this Little League baseball world championship tournament for 15- and 16-year-olds since it was moved to Bangor from Kissimmee, Fla., in 2002.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said shortstop Kean Wong, the manager’s son. “I can’t explain it. It’s the best feeling ever.”
Hawaii pounded out 16 hits against three Texas pitchers, including three apiece by Chayce Kaaua and Korin Medeiros and two each from Kean Wong and Koa Matson, whose three-run double to right-center with two out in the bottom of the fifth ended the game.
Hawaii completed SLWS play with a .434 team batting average and outscored its six opponents 51-12, including 38-2 over its last four victories.
“Obviously that Hawaii team came out swinging the sticks very well,” said Texas manager Rahman Kafray, whose U.S. Southwest champions finished 5-1 in the Senior League World Series and 15-1 overall. “They jumped on any mistakes my pitchers made. I don’t think our pitchers came out with their best stuff, they were leaving pitches up and the Hawaii team capitalized on that.”
Torres-Costa, meanwhile, shut down a Texas offense that entered the final batting a collective .373.
The lefthander, a University of Hawaii recruit, yielded an infield hit in the top of the first, but thanks to a double play faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings before yielding a fifth-inning run on an RBI double by Jacob Wadle.
Torres-Costa struck out six batters and walked no one while throwing 51 pitches, 37 for strikes.
“There’s no easy way to lose, but that’s a good team,” said Kafray. “(Torres-Costa) pitched a heck of a game, he kept us off balance. He threw a pretty good fastball and his curveball broke well. We just couldn’t get a groove.”
Hawaii’s offense found its groove almost immediately, taking a 1-0 lead after two were out in the bottom of the first.
After Texas lefthander Jacob Spitzer retired the first two batters, Kaaua lined a first-pitch double to left field, then scored as Korin Medeiros grounded a 3-2 pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
Kolten Yamaguchi and Matson followed with singles to load the bases, but Spitzer induced Kodi Medeiros into an inning-ending groundout to first.
The Big Islanders than broke the game in the third, sending 13 batters to the plate while scoring seven runs on eight hits.
“We just had to get a feel for the pitcher a little bit and once we came around the second time there was no stopping us,” said Kaaua, who finished the series with a .632 batting average.
Texas reliever Braden Nelson nearly got out of the jam with just one run allowed, getting back-to-back strikeouts after singles by Wong and Kaaua and an RBI double to deep left by Korin Medeiros gave Hawaii a 2-0 lead.
But an two-out infield single off Nelson’s glove by Kodi Medeiros plated Kaaua and reignited the Hawaii offense.
Keenan Nishioka followed with an RBI single to center, then pinch-hitter Andy Filoteo singled off the glove of Texas second baseman William Finley to plate another run.
Torres-Costa then bunted back to the mound, but Nelson was late in his decision to throw home, enabling Nishioka to score the fifth run of the inning and Torres-Costa to reach first safely.
Wong then hit an RBI infield single to first base and a second run scored on the play after a throwing error as Wong got caught in a rundown between first and second bases.
Torres-Costa opened the Hawaii fifth with a single to right, then Kaaua was hit by a pitch and Korin Medeiros singled off relief pitcher Seth Gibson’s glove before Matson cleared the bases.
“We knew we were going to score runs, but we knew Texas was a good team so we didn’t want to take them cheap,” said Kean Wong. “We just put our bats together and ran off it.”
U.S. Southwest (5-0) 000 01 — 1 3 1
U.S. West (5-0) 107 03 — 11 16 0
Spitzer, Nelson (2), Gibson (3) and Mallard; Torres-Costa and Matson