By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Eric Riveira doesn’t resemble a prototypical leadoff hitter, while Ryan Ragual, tall and slender, has the perfect look for the No. 5 hole.
Standing near the home plate that they had turned into their launching pad, they were the only two Hilo players left to be called as PONY officials handed out the final six home run balls of the state Bronco tournament.
Ragual got two, both courtesy of his sweet swing Tuesday at Walter Victor Stadium. Then, since he figured to have his hands full, Riveira was simply given the whole box.
On a morning when best on the Big Island also meant No. 1 of all the islands, Ragual drove in six runs and Riveira hammered his fourth home run of the tournament as Hilo overpowered Kona 14-2.
Ragual said Hilo probably didn’t need PONY’s reminder to treat its visit to the West Zone Regional later this month in Whittier, Calif., as a business trip, not a vacation.
“We want to go to the World Series,” said Ragual, who hit a two-run shot to center to fuel a five-run first, then sent a another fastball deep to left with a runner on board in the sixth.
“That’s Ryan. He’s a power hitter and always has been,” coach Lenn Miyao said. “He carried us today.”
As did Riveira for most of Hilo’s untouchable 4-0 run in ages 11-12 tournament.
Winning pitcher Reese Mondina went four solid innings before giving up a pair of runs in the fifth, so fittingly it was Riveira who closed out the championship by striking out the side. He struck out six over the final three innings, adding to the nearly flawless 11 he worked earlier in tournament.
Because teams have started to intentionally walk Riveira, Miyao had his husky slugger bat at the top of the lineup. Riveira was a true leadoff hitter in the first inning, taking a hit by pitch and scoring the game’s first run on an error.
“I didn’t want to bat leadoff, but I got more at-bats,” said Riveira, who had two hits. “If I get on base, I can score runs, because the batters behind me get base hits.”
For good measure in the seventh, he turned on a curveball and ripped a two-run rocket that caromed off a car beyond the left-field fence.
Playing their sixth game in five days, the Kona Crush ran out of steam after reaching the final on the strength of four straight elimination-game victories.
“Hilo is hands down one of the best teams we’ve played at states,” said Kona coach Nick Kaawa, whose clubs went two-and-out in 2010-12.
And the Hilo All-Stars were brought together with much more than just raw power in mind.
Miyao has spent the better part of the last month telling Logan Respicio that great things would happen if he continued to focus on playing small-ball.
“If I lay my bunts down, he told me I would start and be in the newspaper,” Respicio said.
How’s this for a final stat line? Respicio put down two bunt singles, finishing 3 for 4 with a walk and four runs scored.
“Coach promised me,” he said, “and he kept his promise.”
Many of Hilo’s players made good on a two-year-old promise.
Stone Miyao finished 3 for 3 with a walk and a pair of run-scoring singles, Jacob Igawa had two hits, including an RBI, and Maui Ahuna doubled to drive in a run.
Those three, as well as Ragual and Respicio, were among the eight Hilo players that were part of a Lenn Miyao-coached team that took a lead to the final inning but was denied of a state Mustang (9-10) title in 2011.
“For two years, we used that as motivation to get back to this game,” Lenn Miyao said. “Every time they lost their focus, we always said, ‘Remember coming up three outs short, and the feeling that everybody had in that game.’ ”
There were good vibes Tuesday as Hilo took an 8-0 lead after three innings, allowing Miyao to get all 14 of his players a plate appearance by the fourth.
“For me as the coach, honestly, that’s my biggest concern,” Miyao said. “Because every player at this level has the skills to play.”
Ragual completed a 3-for-3 day with an RBI single as Hilo scored four runs in the seventh, and the only out he made was a loud sacrifice fly in the second.
His big day at the plate came after an impromptu session with hitting instructor Kaha Wong, who works with 12 of Hilo’s players and was praised by Miyao as a “motivator.”
“It helped,” Ragual said of the extra work with Wong on Monday.
Relying more on a changeup than he did in his victory Saturday, Mondina breezed through the first four innings, allowing just a pair of singles to Toby Estrella, with two strikeouts.
Kona struck for two runs in the fifth, getting an RBI triple from Bryton Lewi and a run-scoring single by Analei Emmsley, before Riveira was summoned to close the door.
Lewi was 2 for 4, and Jason Alani, who pitched a complete game Sunday to help keep Kona alive, pitched three innings and took the loss.
As Hilo prepares for regionals, Kaawa and 10 of his players from the Crush will get back to work Thursday as part of a Kona team that owns a berth in the state Little League tournament.
“I told them to keep their heads up,” Kaawa said. “A good bunch of kids. They had to work hard to get here. They’re tired and worn down, but the mood is great.”
The other players on Hilo are Casey Yamauchi, Micah Bello, Rekky Prudencio, Lono Vincent, Bryce Furuli, Jaime Ebersole and Reis Stradtman-Carvalho.
Hilo 521 002 4 – 14 15 0
Kona Coast 000 020 0 – 2 6 1
Correction: The Hilo Mustang 9s’ Brock Malani had two hits and drove in three runs Monday as Hilo beat Windward (Oahu) 21-11 in the state final.
Malani’s hitting statistics were incorrectly attributed to coach Shon Malani in Tuesday’s edition.