Saturday | December 16, 2017
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Little League: Hilo hits first roadblock in loss to Southern California

Rarely tested at districts or states and unbeaten until Thursday, Hilo’s one-game-at-a-time philosophy is about to take on a true tone.

It’s win or go home for the Little Leaguers after they rallied gamely but fell 12-8 to Southern California in their first shot to reach the championship game of the West Regionals in San Bernardino, Calif.

“I told the kids it’s my fault,” coach Baba Lancaster said. “I take the blame for this one.”

A brawny bunch from San Margarita had something to do with the outcome as well. Slugging five extra-base hits, Southern California (3-0) answered Hilo’s comeback with a six-run six inning and advanced to Saturday 12-under final, where it awaits the winner of Friday’s game between Hilo (2-1) and Utah (3 p.m., ESPN). Lancaster said ace Mana Kuamoo will start on four days rest. Hilo beat Utah 14-5 on Monday, but St. George has reeled off two consecutive wins.

Making their first appearance in front of a national television audience Thursday at Al Houghton Stadium, each Hilo player got camera time to introduce themselves and list their favorite major leaguer.

“It’s a different atmosphere,” Lancaster said.

That perhaps played a role in a jittery top of the first inning in which Hilo made two errors and committed a catcher’s interference.

Hilo fell behind 5-1 after the second inning but started to chip away after Xaige Lancaster led off the third with the solo home run, and it looked poised for its third come-from-behind win at regionals as it scored four times in the fifth.

Joshua Ward doubled, moved to third on Kyson Wada’s single – which chased pitcher Joey Gray, who exceeded the pitch maximum – and Klayson Herolaga’s bloop hit made it 6-4. Devin Garza was hit by a pitch and Lancaster coaxed a walk to produce another run, then Mana Kuamoo’s single up the middle tied the game. Gunner Riley, who reached on a fielder’s choice, scampered home on a wild pitch to give Hilo its first lead.

It was short-lived.

With one out, Bobby Gray hit a two-run home run off Xaige Lancaster after Tyler Ankrum doubled, and the inning spiraled downward from there.

“I told them it was better to lose now than in the championship game,” Baba Lancaster said. “Get it out of your system.”

Until the sixth, Xaige Lancaster pitched well in relief of Ward, who worked three innings and allowed five hits and five runs (three earned).

The first six hitters in Southern California’s lineup combined to go 9 for 18. Drew Rutter had two doubles and four RBIs. Tommy Woods did well to stem the tide in the bottom of the fifth and earned the victory.

“They have some big boys,” Lancaster said.

Ward launced a bomb to center in the sixth for his second home run at the tournament, finishing with two hits along with Xaige Lancaster and Kuamoo.

Baba Lancaster would have liked to have saved Kuamoo until Saturday, but Hilo will have to rely on him to get to the championship game. The left-hander struck out 16 in a two-hit masterpiece against Arizona on Sunday.

S. California 230 106 – 12 10 3

Hawaii 102 041 – 8 11 3


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