For the second year in a row, the Gold Coast Major (ages 9-12) All-Stars are heading to the Little League West Regional Tournament.
The tournament will be held July 18-25 at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino, Calif.
Gold Coast — which draws its players from the west side of the Big Island — was scheduled to play Hilo in a best-of-three series at Honokaa Park on Saturday to decide the District III champion, but Hilo pulled out of the event Friday evening.
“I’m excited,” Kawai Kauahi-Raquel said. “I’m looking forward to a lot of good competition and Disneyland.”
Natasha Molina is one of three members on the roster who made the trip with Gold Coast last year to the regionals. Last year’s squad went 0-4 at the tournament.
“Now we know what we are going to face up there,” Molina said. “We know it will be a challenge, but my team is good. I know we can win.”
While some of the girls were disappointed to not see game action Saturday, head coach Jerry Hiraishi capitalized on the opportunity of having an open field and got in some practice time.
“The next step is the mainland. It’s very different than Hawaii. They are more year-round over there,” Hiraishi said. “What we have to work on is our defense. I stress on defense a lot. The fact is, if the other team doesn’t score runs, that’s less runs you have to score. I really based it on that. Also, being in shape. If you are in shape you don’t breathe hard and can be focused and under control.”
Kiana Molina is now an assistant coach for Gold Coast, but was the head coach last season. She said it was a great experience representing Hawaii, and having the kids start to play softball at a younger age pays dividends down the road.
“It’s a great feeder program for the high schools,” said Molina, who also coaches at Honokaa High School. “A lot of the kids that start are green. By that level they should be able to know more so we can compete in places like Oahu and the mainland.”
The district has struggled with numbers this year. In addition to Hilo withdrawing, Molokai also dropped out earlier this season.
Gold Coast works hard to maintain a top-notch program and even though they didn’t light up the scoreboard Saturday, the tournament invite is a major accomplishment.
“It pays off to play by the rules, do everything by the books and work hard,” Kiana Molina said. “Once again, the team that did all that gets to go again.”
As for the future, Molina has an optimistic take.
“I hope it gets bigger and better. That’s all you can do.”
The Gold Coast senior team (ages 13-16) was selected earlier this month to represent Hawaii in the senior regional tournament, which will be held July 25-31 in Missoula, Mont.