Central East Maui downs West Maui, punches ticket to states
WAILUKU — When Kai Watanabe stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning of the Hawaii State Little League District 3 Majors (10-12) championship game on Tuesday at War Memorial Little League Field No. 1, the Central East Maui slugger took full advantage.
The rising seventh grader at Iao Intermediate School smoked a line drive to the fence in right-center field for an inside-the-park home run that pushed the score to 9-0.
Minutes later, CEMLL wrapped up a 10-0 win over West Maui Little League on a mercy-rule, walk-off error.
“It felt pretty good,” Watanabe said of the game’s biggest blow. He finished 2 for 3 with three runs and the four RBIs.
Watanabe is looking forward to the next step on the journey, the state tournament on Kauai, July 15-19.
“Pretty excited because we work hard and then we have to practice a lot,” Watanabe said. “I think we can go pretty far.”
Watanabe scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first, racing home from second base on an error on a ball hit by Raecen Velez.
CEMLL added three runs in an instant in the third inning when a passed ball on a bases-loaded situation scored a run and two errors on the same play cleared the bases.
Watanabe’s laser-beam hit in the fourth was the highlight of a six-run outburst.
CEMLL head coach Chris Barrozo was happy to take care of business quickly against a West Maui team making a rare appearance in the Maui County championship game. WMLL needed two wins in the double-elimination format to claim the title, but Barrozo didn’t want to take any chances.
“Oh, this is super huge right now,” Barrozo said. “We have actually trained with this group since they were 8 years old and then COVID hit when we were 10s. We felt we had a pretty solid team at 10s to compete for the worlds. So it’s a big accomplishment for these guys this year to have the ability to show our talent on Maui.”
Maui lost to a Honolulu team last year at the state tournament in Kihei in a winner-take-all finale. That Honolulu team advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“We can go as far as our players want to go,” Barrozo said. “Us coaches, we’re just here along for the ride, along for the journey and they know that we are going to guide them as much as we can, but they are the players and whatever they decide to do can get us as far as they want to go, we will be with them.”
Ka’imi’ike Kamoku pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout with five strikeouts and no walks for the county champions. He needed 26 pitches to get through the first inning when he wiggled out of a jam with two runners on base with one out.
“He was actually one of my aces during the regular season, so when we chose the all-star team we took him,” Barrozo said.
Nolan Hashimura-Agmata had the only extra-base hit for West Maui, a double in the first inning.
Little League officials around the field on Tuesday could not remember when the last West Maui team made a county final.
“Super proud of these guys,” West Maui head coach Don Thompson said, adding that Hitters Paradise has helped the program immensely. “We’ve worked hard, we’ve worked really hard over the past two or three years, this has been building for these guys and it’s a hard one to swallow because we put great expectations on ourselves. We put great expectations on each other and we try hold each other accountable for what we do.
“I mean, this is a community effort that we have here, from our league president, to our board, to our coaching staffs and everybody involved. I might be the one up here, but I’m just the base of it. There’s a whole body behind me that really makes this all happen for us.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Maui 000 0– 0 3 x
Central East Maui 103 6–10 3 x
Joseph-James Rosenthal, Luca Archer (4) and Kingston Medeiros; Ka’imi’ike Kamoku and Kai Watanabe, Jackson Sebastian (4). W–Kamoku. L–Rosenthal. 2B–West Maui, Nolan Hashimura-Agmata. HR–Central East, Watanabe (inside park).
Leading hitters–Central East, Watanabe 2-3, 3 runs, 4 RBIs.