HONOKAA — With just two weeks to prepare and pitching thresholds to be mindful of, the opening round of the Little League Major Division (11- to 12-year-olds) District Tournament is equal parts guessing game and math problem.
North Hawaii had the answer to the equation Friday, using a mix of power and speed to beat Ka‘u 13-1 in the opening game of the tournament Friday at Honokaa Park.
“I think the first game is always a learning experience for everybody,” North Hawaii head coach Lane Yanagisawa said. “All of the kids did what they had to do out there and made all the plays we needed to collect the win.”
Hilo defeated Hamakua Coast 16-0 behind Jaystin Lewi’s one-hitter in the second game, setting up a matchup with North Hawaii at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
“Hilo is always the team to beat,” Yanagisawa said. “We are looking forward to facing them.”
Ka‘u and Hamakua Coast will battle at 1:30 p.m Saturday, with the loser being eliminated from the tournament. The winner of that game will face the loser of the Hilo and North Hawaii contest at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The championship is scheduled for Monday at 10:30 a.m.
The tournament champion will earn a berth to the best-of-three sectional playoffs at Walter Victor Field in Hilo on July 12-13 against the Maui district champion. The winner of that series will earn a trip to Oahu for the state tournament July 18.
Sheldon Aribal recorded the win for North Hawaii, going 1 2/3 innings and striking out two. Kaimi Hook, Ry Bleckel and Nalu Shimizu also saw time on the mound. All the hurlers stayed under the 20-pitch threshold.
“Our pitchers struggled a bit at times, but they got us the win,” Yanagisawa said. “It can be tough, but we do our best to keep them all at 20 pitches so we can save them for the next day.”
Bleckel provided the highlight of the afternoon with a three-run inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the third. The play was the climax of a seven-run inning for North Hawaii.
Mason Medeiros also contributed offensively for North Hawaii, going 2 for 2, with a stand-up triple and two RBIs.
North Hawaii dominated the basepaths, with nearly every player in the lineup recording a stolen base.
Cruz Alani-Horan scored the only run for Ka‘u, getting on base with a single and stealing his way to home plate.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Ka‘u head coach Rory Koi said. “This is our first year and it has been a great experience for them.”
Koi acknowledged his team’s growing pains, but assured they will be back Saturday with an optimistic outlook.
“The double-elimination is nice because the kids get to play more ball,” Koi said. “That’s what it is all about. The kids just want to get out there and play. We are only going to get better.”