Hilo primed for state Little League tournament on Maui

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald The Hilo All-Stars open play at the state Little League tournament (ages 11-12) on Friday on Maui. On the team are, from left, back row: Logan Doran, Landon Haili, Ghage Daquep, Blayze Leslie, Cameron Mateo, Kendrick-Allen Stevens and Conor Wallace; front row, from left, Zanden Kepaa, Brock Ayudan, Jesse Inouye, Knox Marzo, John Branco and Josiah Nihoa.

Hilo All-Stars coach Earl Moses has tunnel vision when he looks ahead to the state tournament. He’s hesitant to consider the possibilities that lurk beyond Maui, or for that matter, anything other than his team’s opening game.

Forgive some of his Little Leaguers for thinking bigger.

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“Oh, yeah, I want to go all the way,” second baseman Jesse Inouye said.

The opportunity exists, and only in the Majors (ages 11-12) division. Little League canceled regionals and finals for all other baseball age groups this summer, but not the one that ends in Williamsport, Pa., in August.

“I picture us winning (the state tournament) and going to regionals and maybe the Little League World Series,” shortstop Brock Ayudan. “We just need to stick together and play our hardest.”

That works for Moses, but remember this: “The first game is really important. We have to win the first game.”

That comes against Honolulu at 4 p.m. Friday on the more taxing side of bracket in the five-team, double-elimination tournament in Kihei. As the host, Maui gets to sit Friday and play the Hilo-Honolulu winner on Saturday. Pearl City, Oahu, and Kauai also play Friday, but that winner gets a day off Saturday.

The situation to avoid is to be the team that loses the elimination game Saturday but has to stick around and play tourist until the tournament wraps Tuesday.

“We don’t want that,” Ayudan said.

Moses thinks his seasoned bunch, with its balanced hitting, deep pitching and solid core defensively in the infield, can avoid such a scenario. He said he trusts at least 10 pitchers to try to get through a tournament that will take four to six games to win.

An all-star team made up from three regular-season Little League teams and drawing players from Boys & Girls Club, Andrews and the Wreckers, Hilo advanced to Maui by beating Ka’u 17-0 and 17-7 in a district tournament in mid-June. It hasn’t had many chances to scrimmage since, so Moses has had his lineup face three of the team’s hardest throwers — Connor Wallace, Logan Doran and Landon Haili — in practice.

“This team can hit,” Ayudan said. “Our pitching is pretty good, we just need to work on hitting our spots and control. It’s not all about pitching fast, just hit our spots and throw strikes.”

Moses coached numerous youth baseball teams as son Dayson Moses, an assistant and a 2020 Hilo graduate, was growing up. He favors small-ball and will try to manage his arms by rotating players in and keeping them under 20 pitches so they can return to the mound the next day. He said he will try to ride one pitcher, perhaps Wallace, for as long as he can in the all-important game against Honolulu.

“They have to play the game, us coaches, all we can do is strategize,” Moses said.

Doran provides one of the biggest bats in the middle of the lineup, and Inouye is the table-setter.

“It’s fun to be the leadoff hitter, because you get the first crack at everything,” said Inouye, whose father, Scott, also assists Moses. “I get to see the pitcher first. If I get out, I can relay what the pitcher is doing, if he’s throwing fast or a nice off-speed pitch, to other hitters behind.”

He and Ayudan were quick to shoot down the notion that any Hilo players’ baseball growth was stunted because of the pandemic, which canceled all play last summer.

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“Everybody has been practicing hard,” Inouye said.

That being the case, why not think big?