Aloha, Mexico: Hawaii bats take LLWS
South Pacific sluggers roll past talented Matamoros
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- A team from Waipahu, Hawaii, had played in the Little League World Series in 2002. But no team from Waipahu had advanced this far, not within a solitary win of capturing the grandest prize in youth baseball.
Hawaii had had a champion team before, though. The team from Ewa Beach was here, and it won the title in 2005.
So, now, it was coach Timo Donahue's 13 boys from Waipahu who were chasing the same championship that Ewa Beach carted to the islands with it.
And just as Ewa Beach had done three years ago, the boys from Waipahu did likewise here Sunday, pounding a talented, deep team from Matamoros, Mexico, 12-3, to win the '08 Little League World Series.
"I think, at this point in time, they don't realize what they did," Donahue said. "I think it will hit them later. But, even for it, it's surreal right now."
Their victory capped a stunning weekend as electric as any band of young ballplayers might experience in their lives.
On the edge of elimination with three outs left Saturday, the boys from Waipahu rallied from a 5-1 deficit against Lake Charles, La., to earn a berth in the title game at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
But Hawaii wasn't about to put itself in that position against Mexico, a team that came into the game boasting the most potent offense in the Series.
Gifted boys like Carlos Balboa, Jesus Sauceda, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Ruben Molina and Sergio Rodriguez all came into the game batting .450 or better.
They never reckoned, however, on finding a pitcher as crafty as right-hander Caleb Duhay to face. Nor could they have imagined their pitching would betray them so badly. It had been the team's bedrock, so dominant was its pitching that Matamoros coach Gustavo Gomez had to believe Sergio Rodriguez, the boy he'd picked to start, would dominate again.
"He told me he was relaxed before the game," Gomez said through a translator. "You have to understand this is one of the biggest games in this kid's life, so I can understand if he was nervous."
Yet on a day when dreams are fulfilled and Williamsport legacies forged, nervousness can do in a baseball team. It can turn dominant pitching into ordinary pitching; it can turn potent batters into banjo hitters.
Who expected that to happen to Mexico, though?
Counting on Duhay to slow down Balboa, Sauceda, Rodriguez & Co., Donahue had been hopeful his boys could score runs early, perhaps tightening the pressure on a young Matamoros team that had shown calm under the white-hot intensity of national TV and great expectations.
The consensus was that Matamoros was the team to beat, people said.
Maybe Matamoros was; maybe it was the better team. But if it was, Balboa, Sauceda and their baseball brethren didn't count on dogged tenacity and South Pacific cool being an equalizer.
Those traits had characterized Donahue's boys, who gave the United States its fourth World Series win in a row, from their first game here to the title game.
For when they saw a 4-1 lead shrink to 4-3 in the bottom of the third, they didn't waver; they proved their resilience immediately.
They scored once on right-fielder Iolana Akau's two-out homer.
"Right off the bat, I knew it was gone," Akau said.
His home run seemed to rattle Sauceda. He then walked two hitters, hit a batter and issued a third walk to force in a run. The last walk finished Sauceda, who had pitched a perfect game earlier in the tournament.
It all but finished Mexico, too.
"It was just a matter of time before our bats woke up," Donahue said. "It's seemed like, once we got here, each game maybe one bat would wake up. Eventually, they all did."
Before the inning ended, Hawaii scored a third run on catcher Keelen Obedoza's scratch hit, which erased what Mexico had done in the bottom of the third.
In a larger sense, the inning wiped out any hopes that Matamoros, dispirited and disappointed at that point, had of returning to Mexico with the champion's banner.
"We can't say this is a failure," Gomez said. "We took second place worldwide, and that makes us feel good."
The banner Gomez had wanted to take back to Matamoros will be heading instead to Waipahu. It will join the banner that Ewa Beach took to Hawaii three years ago. It will arrive home to the kind of hero's welcome that Donahue's boys will surely remember.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.