Winchester blasts Hawaii to win
Two shots help team into U.S. championship on Saturday
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Somebody suggested that third baseman Pikai Winchester might be the greatest Little League hitter that his coach, Timo Donahue, had ever seen.
"Greatest," Donahue said, "is for others to say.
"I think he's a great hitter. I think he's seeing the ball really well right now."
No one can argue to the contrary after Winchester's sizzling bat helped power Hawaii into the U.S. championship game with a 9-4 win over Mill Creek, Wash., in the second game on Wednesday at Lamade Stadium.
Hawaii, winners of the West Region, will play either Lake Charles, La., or Citrus Park, Fla., on Saturday.
But Donahue and his boys wouldn't be going anywhere without Winchester's help. They fell behind in the first inning to Mill Creek, which jumped on right-hander Caleb Duhay for two runs in the inning.
The lead didn't hold up long. Hawaii replied with a four-run bottom of the first. The inning started with an error, and it led to Tanner Tokunaga's homer that tied the ballgame. Hawaii then scored twice more off right-hander Derrick Mahlum.
From there, Hawaii continued to score. With Winchester accounting for three RBIs on his two home runs, they eliminated Mill Creek, which contributed to the nine runs with a pair of untimely errors.
"They're too good a team to do that to," Mill Creek coach Scott Mahlum said. "I think I told you guys before, Hawaii was the best team defensively -- fundamentally. They were.
"I think I also said that Winchester was the best hitter here. He proved it again tonight."
Mahlum did, however, see opportunities that his boys let slip away. They had almost as many hits as Hawaii (nine to seven), plus, they had seven walks.
The big difference, he said, was in the number of homers: four for Hawaii; one for Mill Creek.
"I thought we were going to win," Mahlum said. "I really did."
It looked as if Mill Creek might win after the first frame. But it now joins 10 other teams that have been eliminated from the World Series.
Mahlum said he and his ballplayers will stick around until Monday to soak up the Williamsport experience. They also have an exhibition game scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday with one of the International teams.
He intends to make it a fun experience, absent the tension of the Series itself. He's looking forward to the looser pace.
"We've come a long way," Mahlum said. "It's the first time Mill Creek has ever been here, so I'm very proud of that."
So is Donahue, who pointed out that Hawaii will be one of the two remaining teams from the United States still alive when it next plays.
"That in itself is saying a lot, when you're talking the two top U.S. teams left," Donahue said. "Both teams are probably going to have to play a perfect game just to get the win."
The perfect game wasn't displayed here Wednesday. The boys from Hawaii didn't needed perfection with the offensive firepower they put on display. But their performance did what Donahue, his coaches and the vocal supporters who wore powder blue T-shirts wanted: It kept the youngsters in the Series.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.