SAN BERNARDINO - After the Ocean View Little League 12-year-old All-Star team defeated Napa National in Friday's semifinals of the Little League Baseball West Regional tournament in San Bernardino, Manager Tod Minato said that Williamsport, PA., home to the Little League World Series, felt as though it was "so far away" and a "long road" to get there.
So true, but only one victory stood between Ocean View and reaching Little League Baseball utopia.
In Sunday’s regional championship game at Al Houghton Stadium, Ocean View held a one-run lead after three innings on Waipio, but the champions from Hawaii scored four runs in the top of the fourth and went on to earn a 4-1 victory to punch its ticket to Williamsport.
Waipio, which won the regional two years ago and then went on to win the World Series title, will take on Columbus North Little League of Georgia in a first-round World Series game Saturday.
Ocean View, which defeated Hawaii, 2-1, in pool play on Aug. 7, played 21 All-Star games in a tremendous postseason run.
The locals went 4-2 in the regional.
After the game, the Ocean View players and coaching staff walked from their third-base dugout toward the Waipio side of the field and applauded the Waipio fans - largely outnumbered - who in turn, returned the affection.
"I told the team before the game that it would be a shame for them to think that they failed somehow, no matter how the game turned out, win or lose," Minato said.
The championship final, televised live by ESPN2, pitted two outstanding teams that featured both top-notch pitching and defense, not to mention some clutch hitting.
Ocean View sent Logan Pouelsen to the mound, but Pouelsen had to leave the game after reaching his pitch count limit with two out in the top of the fourth, after Waipio took a 4-1 lead. He gave way to Hagen Danner who started at catcher but finished the game. Waipio answered with ace Noah Shackles who went the distance. The right-hander struck out nine and allowed four hits.
In six tournament games, Waipio allowed just nine runs. The one run was the lowest output in the tournament for Ocean View.
"If you can throw a complete game against us on 83 pitches, he did a great job on us," Minato said of Shackles.
Although Waipio threatened with runners in scoring position in both the second inning and loading the bases in the third, only to come away empty on both counts, it was Ocean View who struck first.
With one out in the bottom of the third, No. 9 hitter Michael Gates drilled a 1-2 pitch over the fence. Ocean View's first hit of the game produced its only lead.
Waipio retaliated immediately, getting all four of its runs in the fourth. With runners at first and third with one out, Waipio scored the tying run on an infield throwing error on a double-play attempt.
Waipio scored the winning run when a Ty DeSa one-hopper took an awkward bounce and landed just inside the third base foul line. The ball glanced off the glove of Armando Duarte and went into left field, allowing Matthew Campos to score from third. With two out and runners at first and second, Shiloh Baniaga sent a deep fly ball to the corner in right field that scored Kaho'ea Akau and DeSa to increase the lead to 4-1.
Ocean View threatened again in the bottom of the sixth when, with one out, Danner reached base on an infield error and Steven Gingery singled to right field. Shackles settled down to strike out Duarte and then got Hunter Jackson to ground out to Akau at second base, to end the game and touch off a wild celebration that exploded out of the Waipio dugout.
"I wasn't nervous, at all, even after that home run," said Shackles, who finished the regional 2-0. "Ocean View's a very good team but I knew they earned that run on that home run. It would have bugged me had they scored on an error. But they earned it. It was a great hit.
"I can't even describe how this feels right now. It's going to be a lot of fun in Williamsport."
Waipio Manager Brian Yoshii had nothing but praise for Ocean View.
"They are an awesome team," he said. "We knew it would be a battle and it was a great game."
Yoshii then stopped for a moment, and took a look at his team as it took in well-wishes from its fans.
"For them," he said, pointing to his players, "this is their dream. It's for them. They worked hard to get to this point and I'm very proud of them. This is unbelievable."
Waipio played the final three innings without starting right-fielder and clean-up hitter Kaimana Bartolome, who was struck by a line drive by teammate Tyler Kushima as he broke from first base. It was an automatic out and ended the inning for Waipio which had loaded the bases and sent seven batters to the plate. Bartolome had two singles before leaving the game.
In addition to Gates' home run and Gingery's single, Pouelsen singled in the third inning and Danner singled in the fourth for Ocean View.