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Central East Maui LL making an impact

Hawaii Little League Baseball teams have made quite an impact at the Little League World Series since 2005.

Starting that year when Ewa Beach captured the world championship, and running through last season when Honolulu took the world title, four straight Hawaii teams that reached the world final and three teams on it all.

Wailuku, Hawaii is trying to make it five straight and has started strong, recording two impressive Series victories en route to reaching Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final against South Riding, Virginia. Whether Wailuku goes all the way or not does not matter because this team already has made history.

These Central East Maui Little League All-Stars have done something no Maui team ever has by just reaching the Little League World Series. And in a baseball-rich state, that is quite an accomplishment.

“It feels real good,” catcher Duke Aloy said. “We can tell our people we made it there.”

They have done it way those great Hawaii teams have done in the past. The West champions are one of the field’s deepest and most fundamentally-sound teams. Outstanding pitching is backed by superb defense and, whether a starter or reserve, all the hitters are dangerous.

Aloy went 2 for 2 in a 5-2 opening-round win against River Ridge, Louisiana while Jaren Pascual threw a complete game and Logan Kuloloia added two hits. Reserve Nicholas Nashiwa provided a huge boost in the next win against New Jersey, hitting a pinch-hit, three-run double that broke open the game and gave Wailuku a 6-0 lead.

There is no one player carrying this team just as there has been none in the past doing so on these terrific Hawaii teams. Together, all these groups showing why they are the epitome of teams.

“Hawaii is so special to watch,” New Jersey manager Jairo Labrador said.

This Wailuku team also shares a toughness gene that bonds it with these past Hawaii teams. Twice it had to beat defending world champion Honolulu. The first came in the winner’s bracket final when Wailuku won a hard-fought 7-6 thriller. Honolulu came back through the loser’s bracket and handed Wailuku its worst loss, beating it 7-0.

Unfazed, Wailuku quickly regrouped and took the rematch 8-5, winning the state title. Surviving the West Regional was a test of poise as well. Wailuku edged California, 4-2, scored twice in the seventh inning to erase a deficit and beat Arizona 6-5 and handed Northern California its first loss just to reach the final.

Once there, Wailuku faced one of the country’s top pitchers and trailed in the third inning. Once again it elevated its performance as Pascual hit a 3-run home run and Wailuku won, 4-1.

This is a team that preaches doing the little things right. It also preaches focus and all of those lessons have come together, creating a historic and memorable summer-long run.

“Baseball is 90 percent mental and that’s hat we stress on them and that’s what we teach,” Wailuku manager Brad Long said. “We teach the fundamentals. We’re not a big team so that’s what we do in practice and in game preparation. We go through different game scenarios. We ask them questions and thinks like that so they can have their mental focus and they’re constantly prepared in the game.”

A year ago Honolulu dominated throughout the Series and earned admiration for both its performance and sportsmanship. It was a team as classy as it was brilliant.

“America fell in love with Hawaii last year,” Labrador said. “We fell in love with Hawaii.”

And now America is forming a same relationship with this Wailuku team because it exhibits all those qualities that made Honolulu so respected. These are excellent baseball coaches, but also quality role models and that has Wailuku winning on and off the field.

Maybe Wailuku will be the latest Hawaii team that reaches a world final. Maybe it will not. Either way, this team has earned a special place in its city’s history and has proudly carried on its state’s fantastic Little League tradition.

That is about as impressive an achievement as winning any championship could be.

“Those guys are awesome to watch,” Labrador said. “We’re fans (of theirs), too.”

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