SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Through a week and a half of the Little League World Series, no team has come close to Hawaii. Championship Sunday was no different.
Hawaii got back-to-back homers from Kekoa Payanal and Kama Angell in the first inning, sparking a 13-3 victory in just four innings over Curacao.
The LLWS title is Hawaii’s fourth. It won in 2018, and this same Honolulu team finished third last year when COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented international teams from participating.
How good was Hawaii? In six games, all wins, the closest difference was four runs. Hawaii outscored opponents 60-5.
“We’re fortunate that everything clicked at the right time,” Hawaii manager Gerald Oda said. “I’m very thankful that these guys played loose and relaxed.”
Part of that run was without Oda, who missed several games with COVID-19. Oda also managed the 2018 Hawaii team.
“After 2018, I thought the next time I come to Williamsport it will be as a spectator,” he said. “I never in my wildest dreams believed that I would be back in 2022 coaching a team.”
Hawaii starter Jaron Lancaster was dominant once again on Sunday as he went all four innings while allowing just three runs, three hits and striking out 10 Curacao batters.
“I knew Curaçao was going to be a big team,” Jaron said. “My mindset was to go out there, do my best and do what I can. I know my offense and defense got me back.”
Jaron’s father, James Lancaster, said all the work that followed the title was worth it.
“It’s been a rough ride,” said Lancaster, whose family lives about 4,800 miles from central Pennsylvania. “We haven’t been home in over a month.”
Curaçao took the first lead of any team against Hawaii in the tournament when Davey Jay-Rijke led off the game with what looked like a bloop single, but ended up at second when neither middle hitter covered that bag. Davey-Jay eventually came around to score on a wild pitch.
“Sooner or later, somebody’s going to score,” Oda said. “We told our guys to keep fighting and fighting. It’s going to be a great day.”
Hawaii only sailed for a few minutes. A home run by starter Kekoa to left field and a shot by Kama that just cleared the wall in center sparked the Hawai’i team and put the Western Conference team up 2-1. He also chased Curaçao starter Shemar Jacobus.
“Anytime someone can score is huge,” Oda said. “When someone hits a home run, the whole team gets excited and it lifts everyone’s spirits.”
The game ended in the fourth inning when Kama hit a single down the left field line to score Esaiah Wong to earn the win and another championship for Hawaii.
Under Little League rules, a team wins if it leads by 10 runs or more after four innings.
“I saw the ball go down and I saw the coach send Ruston (Hiyoto) off,” Kama said. “I was very emotional. It was the best moment of my life.”
Curaçao has a title, back in 2004. But the team from a small Caribbean island with a population roughly the size of Springfield, Massachusetts, reached the final in 2019 as it did this year.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Curaçao manager Zaino Everett, whose team won five elimination games to reach the title game. “We are champions and the second team in the whole world. Nobody expected us to be here.”
After the trophy presentation and press conference were over and most of the fans had left, Hawaii’s players celebrated their title the way many 10- to 12-year-old boys would. They were sliding on cardboard boxes down the big hill behind Lamade Stadium.
Jake Starr is a journalism student at Penn State.