By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kaha Wong’s Big Island All-Stars didn’t pull off a grand upset against the independent professional Hawaii Stars, but the local kids did the next best thing: they showed that they can play ball.
The Hawaii Stars needed extra innings and relied on a squeeze bunt to inch-worm past the Big Island All-Stars 8-7 in a thrilling down-to-the-wire exhibition Wednesday on the Fourth of July at Wong Stadium.
The second and final exhibition will be held at 5:30 p.m. today at Wong Stadium. The game will not be on radio or streamed on the team’s website, hawaiistarsprobaseball.com. All proceeds benefit Little League.
Hard-throwing right-hander John Holley, who celebrated his 25th birthday on the Fourth of July, will get the start for the Stars (12-12). Their next home game is Tuesday, July 10 against the Sonoma County Grapes.
To avoid any Hawaii High School Athletic Association and NCAA headaches, the Big Island All-Stars had to follow certain guidelines, such as the exhibition was to be defined as not “organized” and regular conventions went out the window; for example, batting lineups extended 11 deep with liberal substitutions.
Both teams still played with nine players on the field, and the pitching count remained two strikes and three balls. There were also three outs in each inning.
“I hope the people who saw the Hawaii Stars come out and support them,” Wong said of the 500 or so in attendance. “We showed that the Big Island has talent and we can play against anybody. It was an awesome game. It took them extra innings to beat us.”
The Local 11 scored three runs in the ninth to force extra innings, relying on a little latitude of ignoring those old dusty by-the-book rules. The first three hitters — Taylor Goo, Hawaiian Moe-Keahi and Keenan Nishioka — reached to load the bases against Paul Jinkens.
Then Kean Wong stepped to the plate, cutting in line of the batting order. So what if it was Quintin Torres-Costa’s turn to bat? That’s the way the ball rolls in exhibitions.
Wong, an upcoming Waiakea senior, hit into a fielder’s choice for an RBI. Then Torres-Costa put down a perfect RBI bunt single, and Chayce Kaaua had a run-scoring groundout, leveling the score 7-7.
“We played hard and did everything as a team,” Torres-Costa said. “Some stuff didn’t go our way, but we pushed through and played inning by inning. We had a good comeback at the end.
“We definitely proved that the Big Island has talent. We proved it, winning the Senior League World Series (last summer) and the state title (with Waiakea).”
The All-Stars, mostly comprised of players from the Big League ballclub, jumped on Hawaii starter Andrew Miller in the third inning when his wildness cost him two runs.
Miller beaned Hawaiian Moe-Keahi, then Keenan Nishioka — the Local 11’s No. 11 batter — singled and Quintin Torres-Costa followed with a bunt single. Chayce Kaaua’s uniform was brushed by a pitch, forcing in a run, and Wong reached on an RBI fielder’s choice for a 2-0 lead.
All-Stars starter Dylan Shiraki — the most effective of the nine pitchers — went two scoreless innings, struck out one, and got stuck with a no-decision.
In the third inning, trouble lurked when the two relievers (Micah Ashburn and Kaimana Moike) who followed had issues throwing strikes. They pitched to a combined six hitters, recorded no outs and gave up four runs.
Waiakea junior-to-be Kodi Medeiros came to the rescue, carrying a bucket of cold water and entering with two on and no out. He needed just five pitches to extinguish the brushfire, getting a double play and a strikeout.
In the fourth, Arnoldo Ponce showed the patience of a professional ballplayer, working the count full and capitalizing on a Mederios pitch that caught too much of the plate for an up-the-middle single.
The Hawaii shortstop later scored on Reece Alnas’ groundout, giving the home team Stars a 5-2 lead, which never seemed safe against an energetic bunch of high school kids and recent graduates.
Medeiros, a Hawaii verbal commit, finished with two innings of one-run relief. The left-hander allowed one hit and one walk, and struck out two, showing that even pros have difficulty hitting his hyper-moving pitches.
The other half of Waiakea’s state championship 1-2 pitching punch, Torres-Costa, made his appearance in the sixth with two on and two out, relieving Lloyd Edwards.
Torres-Costa walked Steve Tedesco on four pitches, surrendered an RBI single to Adam Jacobs on a 1-and-2 count, and a second run scored on an outfield error. Then the Hawaii signee retired fellow local Reece Alnas for his short work order.
“It felt the same playing them (against anyone else),” Torres-Costa said. “I was thinking that they’re just a little bigger. They put their shoes and clothes on the same way. The only difference is they’re a little bigger.”
After Miller’s three-inning stint, the Stars used a two inning, tag-team of Michael Kenui, Cortney Arruda and Jinkens before outfielder-turned-emergency pitcher Alnas logged an inning for the win.
In the bottom of the 10th, Alnas singled off Jayse Bannister and Anthony Williams reached on an error. After a wild pitch moved both runners in scoring position, Angel Sanchez dropped a first-pitch squeeze bunt for the winning run.
Besides Shiraki, Ashbury, Moike, Kodi Medeiros (2 innings), Edwards (1 2/3 innings), Torres-Costa (one out), Kian Kurokawa (1 inning), Kelson Kaua (1 inning) and Bannister (1 1/3 innings) also pitched for the Local 11.
Nishioka batted 3 for 3, Torres-Costa 3 for 5, Korin Medeiros 3 for 5 and Wong 1 for 4 with two RBIs.
Dion Pouncil, a new Hawaii pick-up, went 2 for 4 and Arnoldo Ponce 2 for 3 for the Stars.
Hawaii Stars manager Garry Templeton II walked away impressed, tipping his hat to the youngsters.
“They did a good job,” he said. “They came out with something to prove and played competitively. They played with a lot of heart and skill.”
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