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Imamura helps Hawaii finish off 2-day winners’ bracket victory

A closer look at the Wailuku, Hawaii 6-0 win over Elizabeth, New Jersey, Sunday and Monday at Lamade Stadium. The game started Sunday and Hawaii led 6-0 with two outs in the fifth inning before the game was suspended because of a thunderstorm.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Nicholas Nashiwa came off the bench in the third inning and wasted no time making a major impact, scorching the second pitch he saw down the left-field line for a three-run double which broke the game open and gave Hawaii a 6-0 lead. It was a reminder about how deep and talented these West champions are, and it put New Jersey in quite a precarious situation.

NEW JERSEY PLAYER OF THE GAME: A gifted shortstop, Sal Garcia also showcased his pitching talents, coming in for relief and throwing 1 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball. Garcia struck out three and also continued excelling in his leadoff role, reaching twice and going 1 for 2.

HAWAII PLAYER OF THE GAME: New Jersey features one of the field’s most powerful offenses, but Logan Kuloloai stifled it and earned the win. Kuloloia threw 3 1/3 shutout innings, scattering two hits and striking out three. Isaac Imamura completed the shutout with 2 2/3 scoreless innings which included four strikeouts.

BIG INNING: The West champions scored a run in the first and two in the second, building a 3-0 lead, but it was the three-run third inning which really damaged New Jersey’s comeback hopes. Imamura ignited the rally with a leadoff single, Bryson Hong walked, Jaren Pascual hit into a fielder’s choice, and Nakea Kahalehau singled before Nashiwa delivered the hit of his life and cleared the bases.

BEST EFFORT: Before the game, Hawaii coaches presented New Jersey players and coaches with Makana, leis that represent gifts. Hawaii has done this throughout the Series. New Jersey manager Jairo Labrador was as classy in his team’s first defeat as he has been in all their victories, showering compliments on both his and Hawaii’s players and keeping this experience in perspective.

FLASHING LEATHER: Hawaii shortstop Bransyn Hong ended what could have been a first-inning New Jersey rally with a hustling catch. Hong sprinted shallow center field and made an impressive running catch. The center fielder was playing deep and had no shot at the ball and Hong’s hustle prevented New Jersey from having two runners on.

New Jersey first baseman Yadi Mateo showcased his skills and hustle in the bottom of the first, again with two outs. Mateo made a diving stop on a Nakea Kahalehau hard-hit grounder down the line. He then used all of his 5-foot, 11-inch frame to dive and tag first a step before Kahalehau reached the base.

New Jersey also ended the second inning strong and Mateo was again involved. Second baseman Yamil Soto stopped a grounder and threw to Mateo for the second out before Mateo made a perfect throw to third baseman Derek Escobar as New Jersey completed an inning-ending double play.

Hawaii turned its own double play an inning later right when it seemed like New Jersey was building momentum. Right fielder Marley Sebastian threw to his cutoff man, Kalalehau, who then fired across the field and threw out a runner trying to take an extra base at third. Instead of New Jersey having two on and one out, there were two outs and Hawaii ended the threat a batter later.

New Jersey center fielder Jayden Capindica came up big in the fourth inning, lunging to make a shoestring catch of a Shiloh Gilliand liner that looked like a sure single.

HOME RUNS: Pascual brought a large crowd to its feet with two outs in the first inning, launching a long home run over the bushes beyond on the left-field fence. Pascual’s homer was just the second hit in six U.S. Series games and put Hawaii up 1-0. It was a strong piece of hitting after Pascual had fallen behind in the count 0-2.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “We’re going to regroup and play better baseball. This gives us another day in Williamsport. That’s another thing, we got another day,” Labrador said. “We were supposed to play (an elimination game Monday), now we bought ourselves another day. You can’t beat that.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “It was amazing,” Nawisha said. “I feel more confident in the box when I’m hitting because I know what I can do now.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The first Maui team to ever play at the Series moved to Wednesday’s winners’ bracket final against Virginia. New Jersey is still alive and plays again Tuesday against New England champion Rhode Island as it tries to reach the U.S. Final Four.

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