Honolulu LL representing Hawaii with honor, pride

WILLIAMSPORT — Aukai Kea never thought he would be signing autographs by age 12. But these days, Kea is receiving rock star-type treatment. So are all the Honolulu, Hawaii Little League players.

Honolulu is playing at the Little League World Series and already has established itself as one of the country’s top three teams after entering Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final undefeated. Looks like these players’ hands could be busy for quite a long time.

“I’ve never signed my name so many times,” Kea said following an 8-3 win against Michigan. “It’s really cute, all the little kids asking for autographs. I like to sign theirs because they are really fun.

That Honolulu Little League players are signing autographs speaks to the team’s achievements. That they so willingly sign and never turn anyone down speaks to their maturity.

Honolulu romped to district, state and West Regional championships. It won an epic 11-inning, 2-0 Series opener against Georgia when Kea capped the longest Series game ever with a walk-off home run. Honolulu keeps winning, but it stays grounded. The players remain the same as when they started this summer-long journey 4,800 miles away.

“We really want the kids to enjoy it and soak it in, but at the same time show a lot of appreciation,” Honolulu manager Gerald Oda said. “It’s about keeping our kids focused and down to earth. Once they lose their appreciation for all the volunteers, all the workers here, that’s when it becomes a selfish team because it’s about them. We constantly preach to them it’s about the team.”

That message has resonated. Honolulu is as well-rounded and unselfish as it is talented. The defense made just on error in its first two Series games and a deep pitching staff allowed just one earned run. Every player has made an offensive impact at some point throughout the summer and Hunter Nishina came off the bench Sunday to drive in three runs.

And Honolulu features the intangibles as well. That was evident against Georgia as the teams waged an incredible battle that lasted more than three hours and did not end until 11:55 p.m. Hawaii never buckled under the pressure with three pitchers combining on a three-hit shutout and the defense making a series of terrific plays before Kea delivered the hit of his life, slamming the two-run walk-off home run.

No wonder so many Hawaii fans who chant “Honolulu!” throughout each game are so excited. No wonder Honolulu keeps receiving well-wishes from its adoring fans back home.

“They are 4,000 miles away but even here we can feel the love from them and also the love of everyone here at Williamsport,” Oda said. “That makes a big difference. They make it enjoyable for our kids and they appreciate it and at the same time we just have to keep enjoying this moment.”

Honolulu players have dreamed about these moments since they first started playing. What once seemed like an event that could only be seen on television has become real. It is a testament to the team’s work ethic, too, since Hawaii is such a quality baseball state.

The previous three Hawaii teams to play at the Series all reached the World Series final, winning it all in 2005 and 2008. The West Region is even tougher, especially with California so frequently producing world championship-caliber teams.

Honolulu, though, made it look fairly easy reaching South Williamsport, going undefeated, twice beating two-time U.S champion Waipahu, Hawaii and then defeating California, 11-2, in the West final. The dream has now become reality and Honolulu is so close to achieving something so few other teams have as it inches closer to a potential national championship.

“It’s been a dream. I’ve always wanted to make it to play in Williamsport and I finally did,” pitcher Ka’olu Holt said after earning the win against Michigan. “To be one game away is amazing. To dream of winning it would be awesome.”

Whatever happens, the players likely will be signing autographs for a long time. They have not been home in nearly a month. They could have gone 0-3 at the Series and still received a hero’s welcome upon returning.

Winning is great. Representing their state with honor is even better. That might be Hawaii’s best win all summer.

“A group of 14 kids from Honolulu, Hawaii in Williamsport, Pennsylvania … this doesn’t happen too often,” Oda said. “What they have done this summer, they deserve all the festivities but we also tell them there comes a point when baseball starts and it’s game on and let’s focus on what we have to do for the team and especially for the state of Hawaii. Hawaii is nothing but positive, great things.”

So is this team.

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