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Baseball journey has brought Hawaii coaches to Williamsport

Brad Lung, Branden Arakawa and Randy Nakashima began their baseball journeys together as kids playing Little League Baseball.

They basically have stayed together ever since. And now their collective ride has reached its ultimate destination.

Lung, Arakawa and Nakashima are coaching the Central Maui East Little League all-stars from Wailuku, Hawaii, and Saturday they will play for the United States Championship.

“It’s an unbelievable experience. It’s something we dreamed about when we were playing,” said Lung, Wailuku’s manager. “We never got the shot, but the guy upstairs works in mysterious ways and he has us here with these kids. Living this with them, I’m super stoked about it.”

Lung began coaching when his son turned 5. He recruited Arakawa and Nakashima a few years ago, sensing that his current team could become something special. Although it was competing in a fiercely-competitive baseball state which included 2018 world champion Honolulu, Lung believed this team had a shot at greatness.

Arakawa and Nakashima joined their friend and Wailuku’s ascension rapdily gathered steam. These coaches do not have any sons playing on this team, but their dedication has been unrivaled. They have helped nurture not only their players’ talent, but also their work ethic.

Put that together and one has a team that dethroned Honolulu in the state championship and has gone undefeated at the West Regional and the Little League World Series.

“When these kids were 10, the others didn’t want to coach and bascially recruited them. I said these boys are going to be 10-years-old, let’s try to do our best and see what happens,” Lung said. “We just went with that and we’ve been working hard with these boys. It’s not just one bunch, it’s everyone working together as one. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”

They have been especially happy at the Series with Wailuku not trailing in three Series games since the first inning of its first game against River Ridge, Louisiana. Those three victories are against each of the country’s other Top 4 teams and include a thrilling 12-9 win against South Riding, Virginia, Wednesday.

Wailuku relied on superb pitching and defense in its first two Series games, but showed it can win in other ways against Virginia. After Virginia erased a six-run deficit and tied the game in the third inning, Wailuku came storming back, regaining the lead an inning later and scoring three more runs in the fifth, going up, 12-8.

Ten players combined for 10 hits, Kaleb Mathias beat out a game-changing, two-out infield single, and Bransyn Hong threw 3 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball in relief. Everything these coaches have preached and taught came shining through at the perfect time as Wailuku moved within a victory of competing for a world title.

“It’s very hard to have a lead like that and then give it away and I’m extremely proud of them to battle back. Basically when we came in we told them refocus. It’s 0-0, it’s a new ball game and we have three innings to play. Let’s work with it. Let’s not put our heads down,” Hung said. “The boys were tight. I could see when I went to the mound. They were confussed, they were worried and we were making a lot of mental mistakes. I just told them, clean it up. Let’s stay focused and let’s get back in the dugout and Bransyn helped us do that. That was big.”

Arakawa helped Hong along and has helped all Wailuku’s pitchers throughout this run. Nakashima has done the same with the hitters. This is not a dictatorship. Lung does not make a move without consulting his fellow coaches and friends.

As individuals, these three are good coaches. Together, they have helped Wailuku become one of the world’s best Little League teams. And Wednesday thrust Nakashima into the spotlight as Wailuku’s offense erupted. The 13 hits were the most by a U.S. team at this Series and Wailuka scored at least one run in five of six innings.

Again, too, it was reserves providing a big lift. Three days after pinch-hitter Nicholas Nashiwa hit a three-run double which paved the way for a 6-0 win against New Jersey, Shiloh Gilliand hit a pinch-hit two-run double and added an RBI single.

There are no easy outs in this lineup and Nakashima is a big reason why.

“I always tell myself I’m going to get a hit, I’m going to get a hit.” Gilliand said. “It came through today.”

“I have to say we have a very good hitting coach in Randy Nakashima,” Lung said. “Everything that he preaches to these kids they’ve been taking in and it’s showing on the field. Everything he tells them, the repetition, everybody is buying into it.”

Because of that, these near life-long friends are feeling like kids again. Decades after these friends dreamed the ultimate Little League dream they are living it together.

“Just like with the boys, it’s a brotherhood,” Lung said. “We’re very good friends and we’re enjoying the ride.”

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