BANGOR — Quintin Torres-Costa had grown used to baseball’s bigger stages even before getting the pitching start for Hilo, Hawaii, in Saturday’s championship game of the 2011 Senior League World Series.
The 6-foot lefthander previously started for Hilo in the 2008 Junior League World Series title game against Curacao as well as the 2010 U.S. West Senior League final against Manhattan Beach, Calif.
He didn’t pitch badly in either game, but both were losses and the signature victory had eluded the Waiakea High School star.
That all changed at Mansfield Stadium, where the hard-throwing Torres-Costa shut down a red-hot lineup from the Rose Capital East Little League of Tyler, Texas, to lead Hilo to an 11-1 victory and the program’s second Senior League World Series championship in eight years.
“I felt really good with my fastball, and I knew that was my bread-and-butter pitch,” said Torres-Costa. “If that didn’t work I didn’t know what would happen, but my fastball was working and after my fastball works everything else clicks for some reason, and I just felt really good today.”
Torres-Costa was a key part of Hilo’s pitching staff by committee approach through the team’s first five wins of the SLWS, allowing just one hit and no runs in 4⅓ innings over four appearances before the championship game.
But there was no doubt that on a deep Hawaiian pitching staff Torres-Costa would be the choice to return the to biggest stage.
“Quintin in ‘08 and last year pitched the championship games, and I guess he had that weight on his shoulder that he thought he failed two times so today I gave it to him again and said, ‘Do it,’” said Hilo manager Kaha Wong. “And he went out and did it. It’s one of the best games he’s pitched of the year, and now that weight falls off him and hopefully Hilo’s proud of us and everything will be OK from here.”
Torres-Costa was as efficient as he was dominant, requiring just 51 pitches to complete the five-inning game, with 37 going for strikes.
“We faced a very good pitcher,” said Tyler, Texas, manager Rahman Kafray. “I’d have to say he was probably the best pitcher we faced in our run, he was on top of his game.”
Making life in the spotlight easier for Torres-Costa was the might of the Hilo lineup, which batted .434 throughout the Senior League World Series and staked him to an 8-0 lead with a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the third inning.
“It takes a lot of pressure off,” said Torres-Costa of the offensive support. “And I knew I had a good defense behind me so I didn’t care if I missed a pitch, I know I have a defense behind me.”
But while the high-powered offense and steady defense were sources of confidence for Torres-Costa, the memories of earlier opportunities missed remained as motivation even as Hilo built its commanding lead.
“That was running through my head the whole time, the ‘08 game,” he said. “I thought, ‘We can’t do that again.
“But today everything clicked.”
Evolving pitching strategies
One trend apparent in this year’s Senior League World Series involved the handling of pitching staffs.
Several teams, including finalists Hilo, Hawaii, and Tyler, Texas, and the Canadian champion Notre Dame de Grace Little League of Montreal, Quebec, employed a strategy in which pitchers rarely threw more than 30 pitches in any game. That made them eligible to pitch the the next day as opposed to being required to sit out days as required by Little League after reaching various pitch limits.
“In a talented tournament like this you can’t go with one or two pitchers,” said Hilo manager Kaha Wong. “Any pitcher can have one bad inning and throw 18 pitches and come back with 12 the next inning and that’s 30 pitches in two innings and if you go over that you can’t pitch the next day, and if you go over 45 you can’t pitch for two days.
“You need to get that depth in pitching to succeed in a tournament like this, and that’s what we had.”
Hilo used nine different pitchers during the series, with only Torres-Costa throwing more than 5 2/3 innings — with five of those innings coming during Saturday’s final.
The Hilo staff compiled a 1.17 earned run average, yielding six earned runs on 28 hits in 36 innings.
“Since the state tournament we’ve been doing the 30-30-30 pitches because we’re so deep in pitchers,” said Wong. “We’ve got probably Hilo’s best pitching staff right here from all the high schools. If one doesn’t do it, I’ve got two or three more who can do it, so that was good for me as a manager.”
Trio set to join Rainbows
Three members of the world champion Hilo, Hawaii, squad already know where their college futures will lead, as Torres-Costa, shortstop Kean Wong and second baseman Chayce Kaaua all have verbally committed to play at the Division I University of Hawaii.
Torres-Costa, a senior at Waiakea High School, will attend the Honolulu campus beginning in the fall of 2012, while Wong, a junior at Waiakea High, and Kaaua, a junior at Hilo High, will join him a year later.
All three are coming off strong performances at the Senior League World Series. Torres-Costa allowed four hits and one earned run in 9 1/3 innings while striking out 12 batters and walking two, in addition to batting .278.
Kaaua hit a team-leading .632 (12 for 19) with 11 runs scored and seven RBIs, while Wong batted .522 (12 for 23).
Wong will follow in the footsteps of older brother Kolten, who played on Hilo’s 2007 SLWS semifinalist team and went on to become an All-American second baseman at UHawaii before being a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals this June.
“It’s been a good year for us,” said Kean Wong. “My brother got drafted in the first round and we were all crying just happy about it, and now we’ve won the world championship. It’s the best feeling ever.”
Catching up with classes
The Hilo contingent was scheduled to arrive home at 7:40 p.m. local time Sunday (1:40 a.m. Monday in Bangor) after a flight from Los Angeles.
And while a celebration awaits the championship team, other work awaits.
The Hilo players, who have not been home since July 29 while playing in the U.S. West regional and Senior League World Series, have missed the first two weeks of their new school year.
The players are expected to check into their respective high schools — the Hilo team drew players from four city schools — on Monday before resuming classes Tuesday.
“I just hope the teachers excuse us now,” said Kean Wong.