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Aloha at the end of the road

Central East Maui receives warm welcome home after historic run to Little League World Series

Central East Maui Little League players and coaches pose for a group photo at Kahului Airport on Monday afternoon after arriving back home from the Little League World Series. They were the first team from the Valley Isle to make it to Williamsport, Pa., where they finished fourth overall. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — Monday was the end of the road for the Valley Isle’s history-making boys of summer from Central East Maui Little League.

The first team from Maui to advance to the traditional Little League World Series at the 11- and 12-year-old age level arrived home to a wild throng of well-wishers at Kahului Airport.

It might have marked the last time the nucleus of this group will play together for an extended amount of time on the same team. Many of them have been playing baseball together since they were 4 or 5 years old in tee-ball.

The players head back to school — three weeks late — today at the intermediate school level at Kamehameha Schools Maui, Iao, Kalama and Maui Waena.

“It just feels fantastic to have a lot of supporters from Maui,” said Jaren Pascual, who starts the 8th grade at Iao today.

Maui players and coaches survey the waiting crowd as they descend an airport escalator.

Caleb Chai, who attends Kamehameha Maui, smiled when he looked at the crowd of more than 200 well-wishers.

“It makes me feel happy to be from Maui,” Chai said. “The support that we get is just phenomenal.”

Pascual plans to attend Baldwin High School, which has won two of the last four state Division I titles. In the future, he will face some of these teammates as opponents.

“It’s just going to be a fun time playing together and just keep moving on,” Pascual said.

Nakea Kahalehau, Duke Aloy and Pascual started playing with Maui manager Brad Lung when they were all 4 years old.

Supporters begin to cheer as the team makes its way down the escalator.

“It’s a little sad,” Pascual said when thinking of not playing with all of this group.

Lung said it is time for him to spend some time with his own sons, Landon, 7, and Logan, 12. Logan Lung used to play baseball with this group, but now concentrates on his 4-H activities with 26 animals at home.

“It was living the dream, totally,” Brad Lung said on Sunday after the his team finished a 13-3 summer with a 5-0 loss to Chofu City, Japan, in the third-place game in Williamsport, Pa. “The boys, they just gelled together, they played very hard. They never gave up — it showed in that last game (a 9-5 loss to River Ridge, La.).

“You know, it’s a lifetime memory for us. I don’t think anybody will forget it, that’s for sure.”

Shiloh Gilliland, a 7th-grader at Kalama Intermediate, was the winning pitcher in a 16-1 win over Molokai to clinch the Maui County title on June 25. He was shocked at the greeting committee.

Marley Sebastian (right) and Logan Kuloloia are welcomed home Monday

“I did not expect this, I thought it would just be our families,” Gilliland said.

Logan Kuloloia, an 8th-grader at Maui Waena, said he remembers practicing at Wells Park in preparation for the West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif., a roadblock for the 10 previous state champions from Maui County.

“I thought we had a good chance because we’re practicing really hard,” Kuloloia said. “It feels special to see this kind of welcome (home).”

Aloy is a 7th-grader at Kamehameha Maui. He caught every inning at the World Series.

His uncle, Jamie Aloy, was a stellar Little Leaguer, a state champion at Baldwin High School, a professional draftee and a standout all-around player at the University of Hawaii in the 1990s.

“He’s going to tell me, ‘Good job,’ “ Duke Aloy said with a wide smile.

Brad Lung will be watching as this group grows older.

“I think they should continue to make Maui proud, no matter what they do with their careers,” he said. “They’re a bunch of really good baseball players. A couple of them, maybe they might play Division I (college) baseball, who knows? It’s just totally up to them in their future and what their future coaches can do with them.”

Lung said he saw that this team could be special when it won a winner-take-all game against Honolulu, the team from the league that won the world title a year earlier. Honolulu forced that state final with a 7-0 win in the game immediately before.

“After losing to Honolulu on state title (day), most teams would have just tucked tail,” Lung said. “Then, the second championship game, being down three runs going into the fourth, coming back, tying it, going up and winning it all, that was a big turning point.”

Then, in the opener of the West Regional, Maui beat the Southern California representative 4-2 in front of 9,500 in attendance — another key point in the journey, according to Lung.

“Everybody just started believing,” he said. “It just worked out well.”

While the kids must get back to school, Lung and fellow coaches Randy Nakashima and Branden Arakawa must return to work.

Lung is a heavy equipment operator for Arisumi Brothers.

“They have just been so, so good to me for getting the time off to do this with the kids,” Lung said. “They’re an amazing company.”

Lung reminisced a bit when he knew the baseball part of the journey was over for this group.

“It’s not only been a long summer, I have coached some of these boys — at least seven of them — since they were 5,” Lung said. “There’s three of them that I have been coaching since they were 4, I believe. So, it’s been a lot longer than just the summer for me and I’m just so proud to have been a part of their lives and their baseball careers, making it to the biggest stage. I just feel honored and very humbled.”

While Duke Aloy, Pascual and Kahalehau have been with Lung the longest, Isaac Imamura had been with Lung since he was 7, Bransyn Hong has played soccer and baseball for Lung since he was 8, while Marley Sebastian and Kamahao Akima have been with Lung since they were 9.

The rest of the roster included Kaleb Mathias, Kaedyn Miyake-Matsubayashi and Nicholas Nashiwa. Akima and Sebastian are the only 11-year-olds eligible to play at this level again next year.

“This is going to be my last run,” Lung said. “I need to start spending time with my family. However, I talked to Branden and Randy and we’re talking about maybe in the future taking a group from when they’re 8 or 9 years old and maybe trying to make another run. … I have been coaching year-round for eight years. It’s time for me to spend some time with my sons.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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