Hawaii moves on to face Mexico
Lake Charles team deals with defeat after late-inning comeback
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Please don't ask coach Charlie Phillips and the 12 boys from Southwest Region champions about agony. They now have a lifetime's worth of agony to cram into their athletic bags and truck back to Lake Charles, La.
Agony will be the heavy baggage from their stunning 7-5 loss on Saturday to Hawaii.
Or agony will surely be the painful emotion they crawl into bed with tonight -- and many, many nights later.
They will long remember that they had held a berth against Mexico in their hands for the 2008 championship of the Little League World Series.
Now, their berth belongs to Hawaii.
"It's baseball," Phillips said philosophically. "It doesn't matter what you do after an ending like that, you always feel the same way. It's just that emotions were a little higher today."
Emotions were a whole lot higher for Hawaii coach Timo Donahue and his boys. They just had none of the agony wrapped inside theirs. Hawaii's emotions center around winning the United States Championship of the Little League World Series.
They were spared having to deal with any agony after putting together the most rousing turnaround of this Little League World Series. They took a thrill ride to the title game after going into their final at-bat when all hope seemed lost.
For Hawaii, the West Region champs were all but beaten after shortstop Kennon Fontenot's solo homer and Nicholas Abshire's RBI single in the fifth gave Lake Charles what looked like an insurmountable lead.
"One of the things I tell these guys is as long as we're within a grand slam, anything can happen," Donahue said.
And anything did happen -- stunningly, too. Donahue's Little Leaguers cobbled together a rally that caught the 17,400 people at Howard J. Lamade Stadium off-guard. The rally came out of nowhere, not much of a hint it was possible.
Why would there be?
Donahue's team had mustered just one run as it headed into the top of the sixth. But Hawaii, trailing 5-1, pushed across three runs off left-hander Gunner Leger and had the bases loaded with runners with two outs.
Phillips took out Leger and put in Peyton McLemore, who knew he and his teammates were in a pressure cooker with no margin for error.
Lake Charles, though, did make an error -- a big error.
With defeat staring him in his face, shortstop Christian Donahue stroked a hard grounder to first base, a ball that should have ended the game.
But who had moved there?
Leger, of course. He booted the ball, kicking it away and allowing Hawaii to score the tying run.
"I let him know we wouldn't have been here without him," Phillips said he took his young ballplayer afterward.
Leger's error brought Tanner Tokunaga to the plate to face McLemore.
Tokunanga, who had relieved starter Khade Paris in the fourth, lined a single just out of reach for Fontenot. Tokunanga's hit scored the go-ahead runs. Those runs deflated Lake Charles.
"I know how it feels to win," Phillips said. "I know how it feels to lose."
No need to put into words how losing felt. His face told it better.
No need to put into words how winning felt. Donahue's face told it better. Yet Donahue understood how deep the hurt had to be for Phillips and the youngsters on the Lake Charles ballclub.
"I think, for the most part, they can feel good, because it was hits, maybe, and not walking guys and so forth," Donahue said. "But If I had been in Charlie's shoes, I'd have felt pretty good up by four runs."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.