Pearl City, Hawaii, wins Junior League World Series

Two years ago, Kawika “Sumi” Pruett was among the spectators in Taylor feeling sad after the Pearl City, Hawaii, baseball team lost in the USA championship game at Heritage Park.

Pruett, then 11, was there for all the games played by his brother, Alika. That Friday night in 2005, he went to console his mother and predicted boldly, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll bring you back here.”

Last week, the Pruetts were back in Taylor – and Sumi was one of the main reasons. The Pearl City team won the Hawaii state championship and then the USA West title to qualify for a return to Taylor for the 2007 Junior League World Series for the best teams of 13- and 14-year-olds in the world.

And on Sunday, the 13-year-old shortstop and his friends defeated Manila, Philippines, 6-2, to win the world championship of the Junior League.
 
Pruett was 2-for-3 in the game and knocked in three of his team’s runs. He also scored once and was part of two important double plays, including one that ended the game.
 
The championship game, played before thousands of spectators at Heritage Park and a worldwide ESPNU audience, was another tense thriller – the type of game that players, coaches and fans have come to expect.

Hawaii took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when pitcher Kahana Neal singled, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Chace Numata and scored on a base hit by Chace’s younger brother, third baseman Chevas Numata.

The national champions of the Philippines – making their first-ever appearance in the JLWS – came back with two runs in the top of the fourth. Third baseman Kevin Ramos and left fielder Jared Flores singled and both advanced on a sacrifice by Seba Martinez-Miren. Ramos scored on a single by pitcher Adriane Benardo and Flores scored on the team’s fourth base hit of the inning, this one by center fielder Yusuke Kuroda.

The one-run lead didn’t last for long. In the bottom of the fourth, Hawaii loaded the bases on walks to Kory Nakamura and Isaac Shim, a fielder’s choice by Christian Perkins and a single by Neal. When Benardo walked Pruett, the game was tied, 2-2.

It remained that way until the bottom of the sixth, when Pearl City scored four times. Perkins doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch by reliever Mark Ong. Neal walked and Chace Numata singled, scoring Perkins with the go-ahead run. Pruett followed with a double that scored Neal and Numata.

Ramos relieved Ong, but hit Brennan Doane-Alco with a pitch, gave up a single to Chevas Numata and threw a wild pitch that allowed Pruett to score what would be the game’s last run.

Manila fought to the end. Kuroda and Charles Catangui singled in the top of the seventh, but Miko Habana hit a grounder to Pruett at short, he turned it into a double play and the ball game was over.

This was the fourth straight appearance in the JLWS for Pearl City. In each of those three previous years, the team from Hawaii lost in the USA championship game. In all, Pearl City has represented the USA West region six times, also winning the world championship in 1984.

“These kids will remember this for the rest of their lives, I’m sure,” said Pearl City Manager Mitchell Yamato. “I have a good feeling whenever ‘Hana’ is pitching. The way the kids approached the game, the way my coaches talk to the kids, the way their demeanor is. They don’t panic. They’re not a rah-rah team. They’re quiet and they take care of business between the lines.”

The runner-up Philippines team made history as well. Since 1999, when Asia-Pacific teams began playing in the Junior League World Series, none had ever won more than one game in a single series.

This year, the team from Manila won five straight games, including the International championship on Friday, when the all-stars beat the Canadian national champions from Surrey, British Columbia, 8-1.

Catherine Tanco-Ong is only the second female manager of a team in the JLWS.

“I don’t feel disappointed,” she said. “I’m not disappointed at all in the kids. I feel like I let the country down and the parents down, but I think that’s an initial feeling that comes with losing. The parents are disappointed and the country is disappointed. Not me. I’m so proud of the boys and the coaches. I think my players played well. We were just outhit.”

Benardo, the Philippines’ pitcher, said Hawaii was a tough opponent.

“We tried our best,” he said. “It’s jut not enough for the Hawaiians. They were just too good for us. They were clutch hitters.”

Several players came down with a virus that affected their play.

“I still believe this is the best team I have ever seen,” Tanco-Ong said. “We could have won. I’m just proud of the way they performed under all that pressure for the first time being here. It is incredible what they’ve done. I also give credits to the parents. They’ve been so supportive from Day One. The stars were aligned.”

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s Pruett said he remembers making the promise to his mother to return to Taylor.

“I was serious when I told her,” he said. “I really felt we could come back and win it. People from around the world come here to play. It’s a great tournament.”

Promise kept.