By JOHN DE GROOTE
Kona rode the arm of Toby Estrella and the bat of Kaehu Kuahuai on Sunday at Old Kona Airport Park to a 15-8 win over Hilo and more importantly a berth in the state tournament.
“Toby stepped up on the mound and Kaehu kept hitting like he’s been hitting all series,” Kona coach Nick Kaawa said. “We had a lot of offense this whole series. The bats were firing.”
With the win, Kona clinched a berth in the PONY Bronco state tournament that takes place June 28- July 2 at Hilo’s Walter Victor Complex.
“After the game, I told the boys we have to prepare harder for states because the quality of teams we are playing is going to increase,” Kaawa said. “We need to tighten up our pitching and fielding and keep working on our bats.”
Estrella pitched a complete game, struck out nine and added a three-run homer in the top of the third.
“Coach told us we needed to come out hard and stick to what we know to do — hit,” Estrella said.
Kona had no trouble following the coach Kawaa’s game plan Sunday.
Kauahai was 3-for-4 in the game, scoring three runs, and Tevin Canda added two home runs for Kona.
“Before the game I told them we have to come out with our bats ready because offense wins the game,” Kaawa said. “Even if we struggled defensively, we have the ability to score runs early and often and put the pressure on Hilo.”
Kona’s big innings came in the third and fourth when the team strung together multiple hits and recorded five runs in consecutive innings.
Kona entered the fifth inning with an 11-2 lead and never looked back.
“We play inning to inning and try to win each one at a time,” Kaawa said.
Hilo put pressure on Kona with a two-out grand slam in the fifth from Kolopua Ahu, but Estrella and the Kona defense stopped the Hilo rally.
“I think the state tournament will be a lot of fun,” Estrella said after the game. “I’m looking forward to it and really think we have a chance to go all the way.”
The other members of the Kona PONY team are: Andrew Udac, Harvey Alani, Dennison Joaquin, Jarmon Hook, Poai Emmsley, AJ Alani, Kelii Pelekane, Keola Pelekane, Steven Texiera, Dakota Kala and Bryton Lewi.