Hawaii beats Georgia with 11th-inning, walk-off HR
A closer look at the Honolulu, Hawaii, 2-0, 11-inning win over Peachtree City, Georgia, Friday at Lamade Stadium. This was the first game since 2002 to go 11 innings at the Little League World Series.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Aukai Kea’s walk-off home run — In a game that featured nothing but dominant pitching and amazing defense, Kea finally delivered the game’s only big hit, slamming a 2-run walk-off home run over the left-field fence. Kea was a fitting hero after his starting pitching was a major reason Hawaii had a chance to win and survive until the 11th inning.
HAWAII PLAYER OF THE GAME: Aukai Kea — In addition to hitting the first American home run at the Series and winning the game, Kea also provided brilliant pitching. The hard-throwing right-hander stifled a potent offense and then delivered the hit of his life in the 11th.
GEORGIA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jansen Kenty — See below for more on this, but Kenty was absolutely fantastic. He stifled a powerful offense that ran roughshod over a strong field at the West Regional and worked out of two jams the first two innings when he stranded five baserunners.
BIG INNING: Hawaii 11th — What else could it be? Mana Lau Kong was hit by a one-out pitch before Kea unloaded, turned on a pitch and drilled it over the left-field fence as Hawaii fans rejoiced and the remaining crowd gave both teams a well-deserved ovation.
BEST EFFORT: Aukai Kea and Jansen Kenty’s pitching — The two starting pitchers were about as good as anyone can be on this stage. Neither pitcher allowed a run before reaching their 85-pitch count limits and both overpowered strong offenses. Kea threw 6 1/3 innings of 2-hit baseball, struck out 10 and walked none. Kenty was equally dominant, scattering three hits in 5 1/3 innings and striking out a Series-high 12. Kenty also left the bases loaded with one out in the first inning. Georgia pitcher Connor Riggs-Soper showed tremendous poise in the seventh inning, entering with the bases loaded and one out. Riggs-Soper induced a grounder back to the mound and quickly threw home to Chase Fralick for the forceout. Fralick then made a perfect throw to first, completing the dramatic inning-ending double play.
FLASHING LEATHER: Hawaii pitcher Aukai Kea helped his cause with a nice play that ended the third inning. Kea bolted from the mound to stop a Bo Walker slow roller and made a strong throw that beat the speedy lead-off hitter by a step. An inning later, the Hawaii defense came up big again. This time shortstop Taylin Oana stayed in front of a hard-hit Chase Fralick grounder, scooped it up and threw to second baseman Sean Yamaguchi for a force-out before Yamaguchi turned and completed the double play. Kea was at it again in the fifth inning, stopping a Cayden Olvey grounder with his bare-hand and recording the final out.
WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “Relief”: Hawaii manager Gerald Oda on his reaction when Kea homered.
“The kids were exhausted. It was an epic game. It was one of those where you wondering when it’s going to end,” Oda said. “It’s one of those games you hate to see someone lose. We won the game on the scoreboard, but Georgia won admiration from everyone and certainly from me. You’re asking 12-year olds to play an 11-inning game close to midnight. There are grown men that would have a hard time with that.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Hawaii earns a needed day off and plays Michigan in the winners’ bracket on Sunday. Georgia has to play tonight in an elimination game against Idaho.