KAILUA-KONA — The Aikane players don’t act their age, which is a compliment.
The squad of senior-citizen sluggers play softball with the passion and tenacity of a little leaguer, making highlight reel plays on the regular and swinging for the fences.
It’s been a championship formula for Aikane, as the Oahu-based squad reeled off a third consecutive Division A title at the Hawaii State Senior Softball Tournament on Thursday, riding a big offensive day to a 24-10 victory over Hawaii County champ Hilo Pomaikai at Old Kona Airport Park.
Aikane is no average squad. As veteran outfielder Fabian Loo notes, they take the game “a little more serious” than some of their peers, keeping their bodies in great shape and traveling through the year to tournaments on the mainland to stay sharp.
Balls frequently were flying over the makeshift fence on the Old Airport’s northern-most diamond. Many of the dingers were hit so deep that the Hilo Pomaikai players didn’t even move once they saw the velocity of the ball off the Aikane players’ bats.
But as the saying goes, defense wins championships, and Aikane had plenty of that, too. Loo might have made the grab of the tournament, chasing down a pop fly in center field and sliding for an over-the-shoulder catch.
“It’s just what we do,” Loo said with a laugh.
Aikane dedicated the win to their late teammate Ron Lokar, who recently passed away.
“We did this for him,” Loo said. “It made this third one just a little more special for us.”
There were multiple champions crowned in the tournament’s eight divisions. Bob Fondiller played with Maui squad Ka Newa, winning the Division B title with a convincing 14-4 victory over the Punatics.
“We are the champions and very proud of it,” said Fondiller, who was getting ready to share a few celebratory brews with his softball buddies. “We’ve got some good athletes out here and our defense won it for us. We didn’t make a lot of errors and that made a big difference for us. We were able to do that pretty much every game.”
What keeps Fondiller going is the fact that he can keep going.
“At our age, when a lot of folks can’t get out there, I’m just happy to be able to still play,” Fondiller said. “I can still run and swing, so why not? It’s just nice to have all my joints and things working.”
The competition is nice, but what keeps the kupuna coming back year after year is the camaraderie. And not just between teammates, but also players from other islands, who make the annual trip to the tourney.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” Loo said. “Every year, it’s great to meet up with all your old friends and to see them still playing the game.”
Now in its 44th year, the tournament draws teams from Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. The host venue rotates among the islands each year. Loo was happy that this year’s edition was on the Big Island.
“I love this island and the simplicity of everything compared to Honolulu,” Loo said. “We are treated so well, and the people who put this on do such a good job.”
While the Big Island was edged out in the top two divisions, some other local teams won titles. The Honomu Rockets won Division C with a thrilling 10-9 victory over Ohana, Kohala slugged its way past Toros 18-6 in the Division D and Jackie Rey’s were golden with a 17-3 win in the Division E championship against Kawaihau. Results for the final three divisions were not provided to the newspaper by press time.