Pomaikai translates to lucky, and in Hawaii Kupuna Softball circles it also means good.
Hilo Pomaikai’s third consecutive Big Island championship, earned Thursday with an 11-5 victory against the Honomu Rockets, came with a hitting lesson, courtesy of Hale Decker, for all the younger ball players out there.
In 2003, Decker coached a Hilo ages 14-16 baseball team to a Senior League World Series title in Maine. Now 61, the pitches were lobbed in a bit slower on a sunny day at Walter Victor complex, and Decker let his sweet, refined swing speak for itself. He connected for three doubles, including a two-bagger in the sixth that scored two runs to break a tie game.
“It’s all about base hits, not home runs,” said Decker, probably echoing a sentiment he gave to his players 16 years ago. “Stand in the box, take your pitch, wait for your pitch and get your hit. That was what I did today. I didn’t swing at the first pitch.
“I just try to to keep the ball on a line drive. Drive it and not get under the ball, so I kept my shoulder up to drive through the ball instead of dipping.”
Players in the 60-and-over league are mature, to be sure, and they come to have a good time and share camaraderie, but they enjoy their moments of friendly bravado as well.
Manager Danny Ayala made a point of calling over Eric Kurosawa so he could his share his pregame message: “We’re not losing to these guys,” said Kurosawa with a smile, adding, “with certain words not in there.”
Players such as Ayala, 79, and Frank Amaral, 81, have won countless softball titles through the years at myriad different levels — island, state, national and world — but this was Decker’s first season with Pomaikai.
“Everybody plays hard together,” Decker said. “There are a lot old-timers that can teach the younger guys and get everybody on the right track.”
Hilo Pomaikai had to get back on track after losing their tournament opener 11-7 to the Kona Legends on Wednesday. Pomaikai pounded Kona Gold 17-10 later in the day to reach the final based on a tiebreaker involving run differential, then they banged out 17 hits against the Rockets.
“We realized that we didn’t hit the ball,” Decker said of the loss to the Legends, “because we realized we were all trying to hit bombs, and we realized we can’t be hitting bombs in the (Division A) playoffs because everyone is good.”
Honomu’s Bert Hashimoto hit the ball much like Decker, collecting three run-scoring singles, and Kelly Gomes also had three hits
The Rockets were sleek defensively, with shortstop Wardell Lancaster, second baseman Gary Ahu and third baseman Joey Estrella combining to turn three double plays, but Pomaikai found the holes when push came to shove.
Randall Okimura and Clyde Bailado each contributed two hits and two RBIs, and Steve Markham and Ayala also had two hits apiece
“We always have a good team, up there all the time,” Ayala said. “We try to win everything we can.”
They’ll try to continue the trend at the state tournament, Aug. 6-8 in Kailua-Kona. Honokaa’s Pueo will join Pomaikai in the Division A bracket after edging Kona Gold 14-13 earlier in the day, relegating Kona Gold to B Division.
There were three other champions crowned: Tsunami beat Kuikahi 14-7 in Division B; Kuaaina defeated Local Boyz 11-4 in Division C; and Hui O Na Kolohe claimed Division D with a 17-9 win against HK.
Amaral decided to sit out the Division A final so others could play, but he was awarded a championship ball signed by each of his teammates.
He’ll cherish it, but maybe not as much as other souvenirs he’s taken home over the years — he and Ayala have been on five teams that have won world championships on the mainland, he said.
“This one goes on the mantle, right next to the (world championship) balls,” Amaral said, “but this is Micky Mouse compared to those.”
“But it’s not easy to win,” Ayala interjected. “I don’t take anybody cheaply.”