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Maui claims AJA crown

Valley Isle squad ends Oahu’s 15-year streak with 13-inning victory

April 7, 2008
By ROBERT COLLIAS, Staff Writer
WAILUKU — Joey Tam Ho was 4 years old in 1988, so he doesn’t quite remember the last time Maui won the AJA state baseball title.

It is a good bet, however, that he will never forget the 2008 state tournament.

Tam Ho led a determined Maui team to the title in a gripping, 13-inning 9-8 win over Oahu on Sunday at Maehara Stadium to give Maui its first AJA state title in 20 years and break Oahu’s 15-year stranglehold on the championship trophy.

Tam Ho, a 2002 Baldwin High School graduate, didn’t start in Maui’s 10-6 win over Kauai in the semifinals, but he came on to go 2-for-3 and score the go-ahead run after doubling in the sixth and the eventual winning run after singling in the seventh.

Sunday, he was even better — his towering three-run homer to left field tied the game at 6-6 in the seventh inning, and his RBI single nearly won the game in the 13th.

He left the last highlight to Aaron Matsui, who singled in pinch runner Lyle Fujimori one batter after Tam Ho tied the game and Brent Fukagawa was thrown out at the plate trying to win it on Tam Ho’s fifth hit of the game in six at-bats.

To cap the day, Tam Ho was the first player in the 73-year history of the Hawaii State AJA Baseball Federation Tournament to sweep the Most Valuable Player, batting average (7 for 9, .778), and RBI (4) trophies in the same event. He tied with three others for the RBI mark, but won it on the batting average tiebreaker.

‘‘Wow,’’ Tam Ho said in summing up the day and the 4 1/2-hour game that had Oahu players looking at their watches to see if they would make their return flights home. ‘‘I didn’t know that nobody had ever done that. It’s a great feeling.’’

Tam Ho admitted he was just one of the many Maui heroes on this day.

‘‘I have to tip my hat to the boys,’’ he said after taking pictures with his hardware and his family — mom Evelyn, dad Jeff, and sister Jenny. ‘‘We won as a team. We had great pitching, great hitting, and our defense was pretty sound.’’

Maui looked like it was in trouble several times.

Despite a determined effort from 44-year-old starting pitcher Dean Yamashita, the Valley Isle nine fell behind 6-1, tied it up after a two-run homer by Matsui in the sixth and Tam Ho’s three-run bomb, and then fell behind Oahu by a run twice going to a last-chance inning.

Oahu took a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth on a bloop RBI single by Shannon Camero. Maui tied the game in the bottom of the ninth when Van Delos Santos led off and reached on an error and Barry Takahashi doubled him home. Tam Ho walked to put runners on first and second with no outs, but former University of Hawaii pitcher Sean Yamashita, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in Oahu’s 13-inning win over the Big Island on Saturday, struck out the next two batters and got the final out on a pop to first.

In the top of the 13th, Oahu again took a one-run lead when Ryan Tanaka reached on an error — one of seven miscues for Maui in the game — and scored on an RBI single by Kevin Higa.

Maui’s defense did come up big in the 13th after Higa gave Oahu the lead. With runners at first and third and one out Higa stole second after Maui pitcher Lance Fujii threw to first on a pick-off attempt. Chris Loo, the runner on third, was out on a 1-3-6-3-2-5 pickle play for the second out, and Ryan Murakami grounded out to third for the final out.

Maui then made a winner of reliever Fujii for the second day in a row. Fujii, a 2001 Baldwin High School graduate who played collegiately at Concordia (Calif.) University, pitched the final four innings, giving up just one run, after pitching five innings of relief on Saturday.

‘‘I felt good today, better than yesterday,’’ Fujii said. ‘‘I knew if I kept us close, our offense would come through — and boy did Aaron and Joey come up big.’’

Besides Tam Ho’s 5-for-6, four-RBI day and Matsui’s 2-for-6, three-RBI day, Maui got two hits and two runs from Royce Fukuroku, and a 4-for-5, RBI performance from Takahashi.

Yamashita, first baseman Takahashi (Texas Christian), second baseman Fukuroku (San Francisco), shortstop Gered Mochizuki (Central Missouri), third baseman Delos Santos (Washington State), and catcher Chase Corniel (junior college) gave Maui an all-collegiate starting infield.

Oahu countered with a lineup loaded with former collegians — and starting pitcher Daven Hermosura was a former standout for UH.

But on this rainy afternoon in front of a boisterous home-field crowd af about 500, it was Maui’s day. The home team won despite seven errors to just one for Oahu, which went home in second place after playing 26 innings in two days and using eight pitchers on Sunday.

Perhaps Fujii summed it up best. The win came on the final day that Warren Shimabukuro was keeping score and taking care of the field for the Maui AJA league. It was also the final day for outgoing Maui AJA president Neal Fujiwara.

‘‘It feels good to win for Maui, it feels good to win for Uncle Warren,’’ Fujii said. ‘‘Twenty years is a long time. I was pumped.’’

• Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

MAUI 9, OAHU 8, 13 INNINGS

Oahu 000 024 001 000 1—8 10 1

Maui 001 002 301 000 2—9 14 7

Daven Hermosura, Ken Nakamoto (7), Chris Mols (8), Brian Higa (9), Sean Yamashita (9), Ryan Tanaka (11), Colby Kagawa (13), Chris Loo (13) and Danny Nitahara, Alvin Yano (12), Kagawa (13). Dean Yamashita, Joey Castro (6), Lance Fujii (10) and Chase Corniel. W—Fujii, 2-0. L—Kagawa, 0-1.

2B—O, Shannon Camero. M, Brent Fukagawa, Barry Takahashi. HR—M, Aaron Matsui, Joey Tam Ho.

THIRD-PLACE GAME

Big Island 6, Kauai 5

Article Photos

Members of the Maui team celebrate as Oahu catcher Colby Kagawa walks away after Maui won the AJA state championship Sunday

The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo

 
 
 

 

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