By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The Hilo All-Stars pushed Vacaville, Calif. to the limit on Sunday before falling in the championship game of the PONY Baseball Broncos West Zone tournament.
The big-hearted Big Islanders fought past Vacaville 5-4 in the morning to force a sudden-death title contest with the winner earning a berth in the upcoming Broncos World Series for players ages 11-12.
But in the afternoon game, Vacaville (4-1) pounded out 13 hits and defeated Hilo 12-6 to close out the eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Whittier, Calif.
Hilo finished with a 4-2 record to cap a remarkable season for the Hawaii state champions, coming within a win of reaching the Broncos World Series.
“Two years ago, we lost in the state championship game,” Hilo coach Lenn Miyao said. “We set a goal then to win the state championship and get to the World Series. This year, we ended up playing over 50 games together and we won the state championship — and just missed the World Series.
“After today’s final game, we set our goal to get back here and to get to the World Series. The kids know they have a lot of work to do, but this is a great group of kids and good things will happen with them working hard. We’re very proud of them.”
In Sunday’s 5-4 win over Vacaville, Maui Ahuna came up big with the bat — going 4 for 4 with two runs batted in, including the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“Maui carried us in that first game,” Miyao said. “He really saw the ball well. He came through big when we needed the clutch hit in the seventh.”
Jacob Igawa and Micah Bello (1 RBI) each added two hits and Eric Riveira hammered a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning to spark Hilo.
“Eric’s home run gave us a big lift,” Miyao said. “And Reese (Mondina) did another great job on the mound. He pitched his second straight great game. He really wants to pitch in these types of situation, and he came through for us.”
The Big Islanders took a 1-0 lead in the first on Riveira’s homer and after Vacaville tied it 1-1 in the second, Hilo plated two runs in the fourth to grab a 3-1 advantage. The California squad pushed across two runs in the sixth to knot the score at 3-3.
But Hilo answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth to go up 4-3. Vacaville tied it again in the seventh with a run. That set the stage for the red-hot Ahuna in the bottom of the inning. He came up with Riveira (walk) and Igawa (single) on the bases, then ripped his game-winning single and give the Big Islanders the clutch 5-4 win.
Alejandro Belo led Vacaville with two hits and two RBIs.
Mondina, who had eight strikeouts, pocketed the win. Austin Lamb went the distance for the California team and took the loss.
In the second game, however, Vacaville’s bats came alive and pounded out 13 hits against three Hilo hurlers. Titus Groeneweg led the winners’ offense with three hits and four RBIs.
Riveira led Hilo with two home runs and four RBIs while Stone Miyao added two hits and two RBIs.
Trey Peyton went the distance for Vacaville and earned the win. He struck out five. Big Island starter Casey Yamauchi pitched four innings and took the loss, with relief help from Logan Respicio (2 innings) and Igawa (1 innning).
“Our kids never gave up, they kept fighting,” coach Miyao said. “When we went got down 3-0, it kind of deflated us. But these kids have been down before and they kept plugging away.
“They ended up playing four games in two days. It wasn’t easy but they’ve been resilient all year long. We’re really proud of these kids and everything they accomplished.”
On Saturday, Hilo dropped a tough 2-1 decision to Vacaville before eliminating Bakersfield, Calif. 5-4 to advance to the championship game. In Thursday’s opening round, Hilo overpowered Bakersfield, Calif., 15-6. On Friday, the Big Islanders topped Whittier, Calif. 2-1.
Members of the state champion Hilo Bronco All-Stars are Micah Bello, Eric Riveira, Ryan Ragual, Casey Yamauchi, Stone Miyao, Reese Mondina, Rekky Prudencio, Lono Vincent, Bryce Furuli, Jaime Ebersole, Reis Stradtman-Carvalho, Jacob Igawa, Logan Respicio and Maui Ahuna.
Lenn Miyao was assisted by Bully Ahuna, Duke Waiki and Mason Bello.
Saturday at Whittier, Calif.
Vacaville 010 002 1 — 4 4 1
Hilo 100 201 1 — 5 10 2
Vacaville 210 502 2 — 12 13 0
Hilo 000 202 2 — 6 8 3