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Maui Ponies ready for West Zone

State champions are versatile bunch, with 13 able to take mound

Kanale Kuloloia of the Maui Pony League All-Stars bats during the state tournament last month. The team is headed to the Pony West Zone Tournament, set for Aug. 1-4 in West Hills, Calif. -- Courtesy photo

WAILUKU — The Maui Pony (13-14) League All-Stars are a mixture of players from four different Valley Isle high schools, but they can’t wait to play as one with “Hawaii” across their chests.

They will get that chance on Aug. 1 against the Northern California representative in the Pony West Zone Tournament in West Hills, Calif.

Maui, Baldwin, King Kekaulike and Kamehameha Maui high schools are represented on the team.

“It’s pretty cool because once this is all over and we go to our designated high schools, we all know what each other’s good at, so it’s going to be a competition to see who’s better,” said Diego Akahi, a rising sophomore at Kamehameha Schools Maui.

Most of these Maui Ponies rose from the Intermediate 50/70 state champions last year that lost in the West Regional championship game.

Diego Akahi

The familiarity “helps a lot because then we don’t have to worry about certain things that everyone can do,” Akahi said. He added that the team members can play several different positions — he is the usual right fielder when not pitching and can also play catcher.

Maui manager Kevin Galicinao said 13 of the players on the roster can pitch.

“We all have got to be ready at any time,” Akahi said.

Jonah Richardson is a pitcher and third baseman.

“We have a lot of fun, we’re pretty good,” said Richardson, an incoming freshman at Maui High. “We all contributed to getting to the West (Zone).”

Jonah Richardson

Richardson agreed that playing for Maui as a whole is a huge factor for the team.

“It’s fun because we have a lot of support, our hometown supporting us going to California,” Richardson said. “It’s very important — our coaches tell us every day who we’re representing.”

Akahi and Richardson are joined on the roster by Branson Cajudoy, Kamakalei Stone, Paul Yamane, Alex Alfonzo, Raige Velez, Christopher Mata, Ku Wong, Kamalei Cua, Koa Benjamin, Devin Kauhola, Kanale Kuloloia and Peyton Bui.

The team went 3-0 in the state tournament on the Big Island, June 14-17. Maui beat Kauai 11-8 in its opener, edged Hawaii Damage of Oahu 4-2, and then downed Kauai again in the championship game 9-6.

The key hit in the title game was a two-run homer by Kauhola that broke a 6-6 tie in the sixth inning. Stone had seven hits in the state tournament, Kuloloia had five hits and Benjamin had four hits.

The Maui Pony League All-Stars celebrate with their championship medals and banner after winning the state tournament on the Big Island last month. -- Courtesy photo

“They’re good ballplayers,” Galicinao said. “I would say pitching and defense is our strength.”

Richardson, Akahi and Bui are the first three starters on the mound, while Mata will be the first in relief when he is not playing shortstop.

“This team comes from all over — I wish we had from Lahaina but we don’t,” Galicinao said.

One concern for Galicinao is the long break between tournaments for the Maui team.

“I told the kids we have got to stay focused because the teams that we are going to play, they are playing tournaments right through and we are not going to play a tournament for, like, six weeks,” Galicinao said. “So we’re trying to keep them focused on baseball instead of going to the beach or whatever it is.”

The Maui Ponies are slated to depart on July 29. School is set to start on Aug. 5, the day after the West Zone championship game. The Pony World Series is Aug. 9-15 in Washington, Pa.

“The farther we go the more they miss of school, so that sounds kind of bonus for them,” Galicinao said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com