Shon Malani’s seventh state PONY League baseball championship team is certainly his oldest, possibly his most complete and likely his most unflappable.
The Hilo Pony 13s All-Stars powered past Kauai 10-3 in the tournament title game Monday, then partook in a rather muted celebration at Walter Victor complex.
If anyone is used to winning, it’s a portion of Malani’s youngsters
“I wanted them to get excited,” he said, “we have a lot of first-timers.
“I think it will sink in later, but you kind take the air out of the end up seven runs.”
And more work lies ahead at a stage that has been a stumbling block for Malani’s teams. The West Zone tournament starts July 18 in Whittier, Calif.
Leadoff center fielder Brayden Malani talked his father into making another run at regionals this season, and in doing so he became a four-time state champion at various PONY age groups.
“A great experience to play baseball, have fun and build teamwork,” said Brayden Malani, who also was on two Pinto teams and a Mustang 9s squad that won state tournaments.
Asked for a common denominator between the four, Brayden Malani said, “The focus of everyone and how everyone works hard and the motivation. We are all going for the same thing. Us picking each other up as a team and playing as one and not just as an individual.”
Catcher Dominic Christensen is new to the Malani program but noticed this team is more “organized and coordinated” than some of the others he’s been on.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the Hilo Pony 13s also are big, strong and they eat early adversity for breakfast.
Hilo, which finished 3-0, and Kauai (2-2) were clearly the class of the four-team field, and for the second consecutive meeting the Garden Islanders took an early lead only to watch Hilo overwhelm them.
“We just had to get that morning (struggle) out of the way,” Christensen said, “When you wake up, you’re kind of tired.
“We just had to wake up, and once we started getting (runs) on the board we said let’s keep it going. We kind of figured we were going to win.
Kaohu Kawelu posted three hits, tripling in the first and scoring on Journey Leialoha sacrifice fly, and doubling and scoring on an error in the sixth.
Hilo’s biggest inning came in the fifth as Leialoha singled, Christensen followed with an RBI double and Shane Sale-Silva added a run-scoring hit, his second single of the game. One batter later, Liwai Correa doubled home a run with his second hit.
“I loved the energy of the team,” Brayden Malani said.
Also coming up with another multiple-hit game was the No. 9 hitter, Isaiah Justo, who singled to left to plate a run in the second and doubled and scored in the fourth.
“I had a felling we’d eventually get it going,” Shon Malani said. “The lineup 1-9, it’s a tough one.”
He likes his arms even more.
Kolten McCallum survived a rocky first to pitch three innings, getting a fine running catch by Correa at shortstop in shallow left to escape unscathed in the third.
Edinn Kitagawa and left-hander Loren Iwata each fired two innings, striking out two apiece, and closer Kawelu was never needed
“It’s a mixture of really talented arms,” Shon Malani said. “Some (of my) other teams kind of had dink and dunk pitchers, but year year’s team is more of a compete pitching staff.
“Other teams, I would hit, I would small-ball to do what it takes, but this one has a lot of options that make it versatile.”
Malani now will take his seventh crack at his first West Zone title.
“I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I like what I see,” he said.
And he’s seen a lot.
On the team are: Kiana Agpalza, Elijah Okano, Isaiah Justo, Liwai Correa, Edinn Kitagawa, Shane Sale-Silva, Legend Lancaster, Kaohu Kawelu, Loren Iwata, Dominic Christensen, Journey Leialoha, Kolten McCallum and Gavin Nishida.
Shon Malani is assisted by Chad Criste and Derek Miura