By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Keli’i Montibon doubled home Caleb Freitas-Fields in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Nobu Yamauchi All-Stars a heart-pounding 7-6 walk-off win over Arizona in the first day of the RBI Baseball League Junior Division West Regional on Friday.
The four-team tournament for players ages 14-15 is being played at the Venice/UYA at Windrow Community Park near Anaheim, Calif.
Later Friday, host Anaheim defeated the Nobu Yamauchi All-Stars 5-0, handing the talented Hilo team its first loss. The Big Islanders play Venice at 5:30 a.m. Hawaii time today in a game that will determine if they will advance to Sunday’s championship contest. The regional winner advances to the RBI Baseball League World Series.
“The kids were really resilient in that first game,” Hilo coach James Hirayama said. “They’d get down but kept battling back. And it was really thrilling for us when Keli’i hit his walk-off double to win the game. That was big for the kids’ confidence.
“This is a young team, with the majority 14-year-olds. We have some great baseball players and great kids, but they don’t have much experience playing this type of competition. Today, they got to feel the pressure of trying to win as well as trying to represent Hawaii the best they can in the tournament. It’s all a learning experience.”
The Big Islanders rallied from 3-0 and 5-2 deficits against Arizona, then plated two runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull out the victory. Hilo outhit Arizona 12-7 but also committed four errors.
Freitas-Fields went 3 for 4 to lead the Nobu Yamauchi All-Stars, including a double and an RBI. Montibon (2 doubles), Keian Kanetani and Ryley Widell each added two hits while teammate Ryder Oshiro had a triple.
Widell also picked up the win, in relief of the versatile Freitas-Fields, who started and pitched 4 1/3 innings. Freitas-Fields allowed six hits and six runs. He walked five and struck out four.
Widell hurled the final 1 2/3 innings, limiting Arizona to a hit and no runs. He walked four and struck out one.
No individual statistics were available for Arizona.
“It was pretty good game,” Hirayama said. “They had a 6-foot-4 pitcher who threw directly over the top. He was tough but our kids adjusted and were able to get it done in the end.”
In Game 2, Anaheim had a 6-6 pitcher who held Hilo to three hits in a 5-0 decision. Oshiro, Joey Ongais and Kilohana Brown each had a single for the Big Islanders. Widell started and took the loss.
No individual statistics were available for Anaheim.
“Both Anaheim and Arizona were good teams with big pitchers,” Hirayama said. “In the second game, we just couldn’t get our offense going.
“But today was a valuable experience for our young team. We feel confident in these kids. Of course, our primary goal is to strive to win. But ultimately, we really want to teach the kids life lessons and prepare them for the future.”
Hirayama said he’d have to see how today’s tournament games go to find out if Hilo can advance. The Big Island team needs a win and for previously unbeaten Anaheim and Venice to fall. The top two teams by record will move on to the final. However, if there is a tie, head-to-head competition will be one of the determing factors.
“We’ll just have to see what happens,” Hirayama said.
At Anaheim, Calif.
Arizona 010 230— 6 7 3
Hilo 000 232 — 7 12 4
Hilo 000 000 0 — 0 3 3
Anaheim 113 000 x — 5 6 1