Hawaii beats Mexico to win Little League World Series
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Hawaii’s coaches lay sprawled on the field as their happy players trotted around showing off their new championship banner.
Winning the Little League World Series can be exhausting.
Tanner Tokunaga hit two homers, Iolana Akau added a solo blast and Waipahu, Hawaii, took advantage of several miscues by Matamoros, Mexico, in 12-3 victory Sunday that sealed the fourth straight Little League title for the United States.
“I know I’m tired,” manager Timo Donahue said. “I’ll probably catch up on a lot of sleep the next few days.”
His pint-sized players wore out Mexico, too. It was just the second time in series history that a team scored in each inning in the title game, with the 1974 team from Taiwan the only other squad to accomplish the feat.
Two Hawaii runs Sunday scored on passed balls, and another run came home on a bases-loaded walk. Mexico committed three errors.
Still, Mexico’s lineup is loaded with dangerous hitters, so the lead wasn’t safe until reliever Christian Donahue, the manager’s son, got Fernando Villegas to ground out to Tokunaga at shortstop.
Then the celebration started.
“U-S-A! U-S-A!” the crowd chanted on a warm, sunny afternoon as the players tossed their gloves into the air, then posed near the mound with the banner.
A team from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, started the U.S. winning streak in 2005, with Little Leaguers from Georgia taking the prize the previous two years.
“It felt really good to be the world champions, especially since I made the last out,” the 12-year-old Tokunaga said, a pink lei hanging around his neck.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s two-run single off starter Caleb Duhay in the third closed a four-run gap to 5-3 for Mexico in the third before Hawaii broke out for seven runs over the next two innings.
Duhay struck out seven in 5 1-3 innings for the win.
All three Hawaii runs in the fourth scored with two outs. Akau started the scoring with his homer to center. The next batter, Khade Paris, reached on hit by pitch and scored on a bases-loaded walk.
Then Keelen Obedoza hit a soft liner toward first that fielder Eleazar Rojas thought he caught on the fly. But the ball touched the ground just before it hit his glove, allowing Duhay to scamper home from third for a 7-3 lead.
Mexico entered the final with 10 homers and 38 RBIs, but the miscues weighed the team down. Mexico pitchers had nine walks and three wild pitches and hit three batters. The team also had three passed balls.
“There were a lot of cross-ups. … I don’t know why that was,” Mexico manager Gustavo Gomez said through interpreter Sergio Guzman.
Mexico fell short in the country’s first appearance in a Little League final since 1997, when Guadalupe beat Mission Viejo, Calif., for the title.
“We’ll still keep pursuing (a title),” Gomez said. “We are the second place team in the world, we should be happy. We wanted to win so bad.”
Tokunaga extended the lead to 8-3 after leading off the fifth with his second homer of the day. The blast cleared the outstretched glove of center fielder Sergio Rodriguez, who slammed the top of the padded wall with both hands in frustration.
Tokunaga also had a two-run homer to center in the second that gave Hawaii a 3-0 lead.
The infielder has become Hawaii’s Mr. Clutch after his two-run double Saturday in the sixth against Lake Charles, La., capped a comeback from a 5-1 deficit to give Hawaii a 7-5 win that sent them to Sunday’s title game.
Hawaii’s players were a tired and soft-spoken bunch afterward. When asked if he was nervous, Duhay shook his head “No.”
Akau admitted he was “kind of nervous. A little bit.”
The most animated answers came when they were asked about school. Classes started a month ago, and the team has been working on homework while on the road.
Trying to, anyway.
“I didn’t even start,” Tokunaga said.
“All of them,” he added, drawing laughs from his teammates.
In the third-place game, Tsuyoki Setoguchi scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning to lead Tokyo to a 4-3 victory over Lake Charles. Kennon Fontenot had a two-run single for the Louisiana team.