Friends, fans watch Hawaiʻi win Little League title, beating Curaçao 13-3
The Honolulu Little League team took home Hawaiʻiʻs fourth Little League World Series title on Sunday.
It won in 2018 and this same Honolulu team finished third last year, when COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented international teams from participating.
“We’re fortunate that everything clicked at the right moment,” Hawaiʻi Manager Gerald Oda said. “I’m very grateful that these kids played loose and relaxed.”
Part of that run was without Oda, who missed several games with COVID-19. Oda also managed Hawaiʻi’s 2018 team.
“After 2018, I thought the next time I came to Williamsport was going to be as a spectator,” he said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be back in 2022 coaching a team.”
Watching from home
Frank Butcher Sr. watched the Little League World Series with some friends and family from his home in Hawaiʻi Kai. His garage is a place that many of the Honolulu Little League team members and coaches have visited before.
“That kid Jaron Lancaster, he lives up down the street over there. Gerald (Oda) lives two blocks away up there. The first baseman Esaiah Wong lives about three blocks up that way,” Butcher said, pointing in every direction.
“We're kind of like this kind of melting,” Butcher said. “This is kind of like a central garage, we call it ‘The Garage.’”
Butcher has known the Honolulu Little League Manager Gerald Oda, his brother Keith Oda, and first-base coach Willis Kato, for years. They’ve coached baseball together at St. Louis School in Kaimukī.
“I give them all so much credit,” Butcher said as the game progressed. “To do what they do and give the time that they give for these kids, it’s amazing. It’s such a commitment and dedication on their part. People don’t realize how much work goes to build a team like that to do what they’re doing right now.”
Many of the team members headed to Williamsport, Pennsylvania with their families. They haven’t been home since Aug. 3. They return Monday on a direct flight from Newark, New Jersey.
Before Sunday’s game ended, 11-year-old Cade Butcher said it’s fun to watch kids he knows compete at this level.
“They just work really hard, and I think that they deserve to win this,” Cade said.
Hawaiʻi got back-to-back homers from Kekoa Payanal and Kama Angell in the first inning, sparking a 13-3 win in just four innings over Curaçao.
Hawaiʻi starter Jaron Lancaster was dominant once again Sunday as he threw all four innings, while only allowing three runs, three hits and striking out 10 Curaçao hitters.
“I knew Curaçao was going to be a great team,” Jaron said. “My mindset was to go out there, do my best and do my thing. I know my offense and defense got my back.”
Jaron’s father, James Lancaster, said all the work that went into the title run was worth it.
“It’s been a rough ride,” said Lancaster, whose family lives about 4,800 miles from central Pennsylvania. “We haven’t been home in over a month.”
Curaçao took the first lead of any team over Hawaiʻi in the tournament when Davey Jay-Rijke led off the game with what looked like a bloop single, but he bolted on to second when neither middle infielder was covering that bag. Davey-Jay eventually came around to score on a wild pitch.
“Sooner or later, someone’s going to score,” Oda said. “We told our kids to keep fighting and battling. It’s going to be a great day.”
Hawaiʻi only trailed for a few minutes. A home run from lead-off hitter Kekoa to left field, and a shot by Kama that barely cleared the wall in center, reignited the Hawaiʻi side and put the team from the West region up 2-1. It also chased Curaçao starter Shemar Jacobus.
“Any time when someone can score a run that’s huge,” Oda said. “When someone hits a home run, the whole team gets excited and lifts everyone’s spirits.”
The game ended in the fourth inning when Kama hit a single down the left-field line that scored Esaiah Wong in to clinch the victory and another championship for Hawaiʻi.
Under Little League rules, a team wins if it is leading by 10 runs or more after four innings.
“I saw the ball go down and I saw coach sending in Ruston (Hiyoto),” Kama said. “I was very emotional. It was the best time I had in my life.”
Curaçao sits at one title, which came back in 2004. But the team from a small Caribbean island with a population about the size of Springfield, Massachusetts, made it to the final in 2019 as well as this year.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Curaçao Manager Zaino Everett, whose team won five elimination games to get to the title game. “We are a champion and the second team in the whole world. Nobody expected us to be here.”
After the trophy presentation and news conference were over, and most fans were gone, the Hawaiʻi players celebrated their title in just the way a bunch of 10-to-12-year-old boys would. They went sliding on cardboard sheets down the big hill behind Lamade Stadium.
HPR's Sabrina Bodon contributed to this report.