By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Eric Riveira and his talented Hilo teammates understood what was at stake in the opening round of the state PONY Baseball Bronco Tournament on a warm Friday afternoon at Victor Stadium.
In a hard-fought contest between two of the top teams in the eight-team field for ages 11-12, Hilo rolled to an impressive 8-1 win over Mililani as Rivera tossed a one-hitter and hit two long home runs in a 13-hit attack.
“Mililani is a good team, they’re always tough,” Hilo head coach Lenn Miyao said. “But we had one goal today — to win. The last two years, we lost our game on opening day and that added a lot of pressure to our team. So, with today’s win, we’re in new territory, in uncharted waters and we’ll have to see what happens.”
Miyao praised Riveira’s one-hit, 10-strikeout performance in what both the head coach and Hilo’s ace called “a team effort.”
“Eric did a good job,” Miyao said. “It was a well-pitched game and it’s the first time all year that one of our pitchers went the full seven innings. Before the game, we challenged Eric to go seven innings and he did the job.
“But in this tournament, everything is about confidence and momentum. Their pitcher (Taylor Inouye) is a good player and a really good hitter. We played Mililani in February on Oahu and it was close. We won, but it was a one-run game. Today, our guys believed in themselves and they carried a lot of confidence into every at bat.”
Riveira, a husky 5-foot-8 right-hander, never let Mililani feel comfortable at the plate. He used a potent fastball and threw mostly strikes, while moving the ball inside and out. He also seemed to knuckle down when he needed to and came up with some key strikeouts when it appeared like the Oahu team might put together a rally.
Riveira had a no-hitter until the top of the seventh inning when Gavin Onizuka singled to right field. But the Hilo hurler then struck out the next batter and enticed Mililani’s final hitter to fly out to short left field to end the game.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and go seven innings if I could,” a soft-spoken Riveira said. “We worked on our conditioning at practice and that helped. I got a little tired but was still able to finish.
“It feels good to get this win. Everybody contributed.”
Riveira picked up the important win as Hilo started off on the right foot in the double-elimination tournament. Inouye also went the distance and took the loss. He gave up 13 hits and eight runs while striking out three and walking one.
Riveira was also the biggest thorn in Inouye’s side. In the bottom of the first, Riveira ripped a 265-foot solo home run to left field to give Hilo a 1-0 lead. Then after the Big Islanders added a run on a balk in the second inning, the mighty swinging Riveira stepped to the plate in Hilo’s monster six-run fourth inning and crushed a 285-foot, two-run homer to deep center field as the host’s lead ballooned to 8-0.
Southpaw Reese Mondina also drilled a two-run homer in the fourth inning while Stone Miyao added a run-scoring double and Micah Bello an RBI single.
Hilo had five hits in the inning — two home runs, two doubles and Bello’s sharp single to center field.
Mililani finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth inning. Kala’iku Kaneshiro struck out but he reached first base safely on a passed ball on the third strike. He then stole second base, went to third on a passed ball, then motored home on another passed ball, slicing the Hilo cushion to 8-1.
But even with the seven-run lead, Riveira and his teammates kept their game faces on — until a bang-bang play at first produced a smile from the hard-throwing Hilo pitcher.
After striking out Mililani’s first batter in the sixth inning, Ethan Suga hit a sharp grounder past first base that drew Ryan Ragual off the bag and second baseman Maui Ahuna came up with the ball. But Riveira backed up Ragual at first and caught the ball from Ahuna in a sprint to first with Suga, who was called out on the play.
As Riveira returned to the mound, a big smile slipped out from his game face and then he struck out his ninth Mililani batter to end the inning.
In the seventh after giving up the Onizuka single, Riveira stayed focused and finished his business.
Riveira, Mondina, Miyao, Bello and Logan Respicio each had two hits to lead the Hilo bat attack. Ahuna, Jacob Igawa (double) and Bryce Furuli each added a hit.
“Our team has a lot of confidence,” head coach Miyao said. “The players practice every day, whether it’s at practice or at the park, practicing with their dad or mom. They put in the time to get better. But we tell them all the time, in baseball and in life, it’s how you approach things. You get back what you put into it.”
On Friday afternoon, the preparation paid off with Hilo playing well in all phases of the game heading into a 3:30 p.m. game today against Kauai, which beat Windward (Oahu) 7-2.
“We’ll get ready for tomorrow (today),” Miyao said. “We’ll see what we want to do with our pitching. But no matter what, we want to come out and play with confidence and try to build on today’s momentum.”
Mililani 000 010 0 — 1 1 0
Hilo 110 600 x — 8 13 2
Makakilo-Kapolei 9, Kona 1
Matthew Orian had two hits, including a two-run homer, to lead Makakilo-Kapolei to a win over Kona.
Teammates Noah Domogsac, Sam You (double) and Jonah Kea each added two hits for the winners. No one paired hits for the Big Island squad.
Orian also went the distance on the mound to record the win. Kona starter Jason Alani pitched five innings and took the loss. Steven Texiera Jr. went the final two shutout innings.
Kona 001 000 0 — 1
Makakilo-Kapolei 012 033 x — 9
Hilo 8, Makakilo-Kapolei 3
Kala’i Rosario clubbed a grand slam to highlight a seven-run second inning as Hilo defeated Makakilo-Kapolei to open play in the state Mustangs (ages 9-10) tournament at Victor Stadium.
Blake Moniz had two doubles and Kobe Kagimoto and Kalia Agustin each had two singles for Hilo.
Cade Fujii had two hits, including a double, to lead Makakilo-Kapolei.
Hanalei Warren pitched the first four innings for Hilo before Braxton Cagampang hurled the final two innings. Warren allowed one run and earned the win. Makakilo-Kapolei starter Xander Sielken went four innings, gave up seven runs and took the loss. Kainoa Mane (1 inning) and Kona Moore (2 innings) also pitched for the Oahu squad.
Hilo will play Mililani at 3:30 p.m. today.
Makakilo-Kapolei 000 120 — 3
Hilo 070 10x — 8
West Kauai 4, Kona 3
Kanaan Ephan had two doubles and West Kauai plated a run in the top of the seventh inning to hold off Kona 4-3.
Sean Mullikin and Tevin Shigematsu each added two singles for West Kauai. Bronson Rivera and Kainoa Jones had two hits apiece for Kona.
Tyssin Unciano started for West Kauai and pitched two innings. Deiton Ohoman then went four innings before Degan Davis hurled the final two. Davis got the win. River started for Kona and pitched six innings. Jones worked the seventh inning and took the loss.
West Kauai 012 000 1 — 4
Kona 100 101 0 — 3