(Makaeo Ball fields – Kailua Kona, Hawaii) It was a glorious Championship Thursday as the exhausted and vog-stricken Rebels watched a light rain fall on the hillside above Kona. The sun was shining brightly on the perfectly pampered B field at the Makaeo Ballpark on the old Kona Airport. With consolation games scheduled to begin early in the morning, the expansive county facility was packed with spectators. Based on advance ticket sales and heavy scalper activity outside the stadium, officials anticipated a crowd of more than 50,000 for the Rebel game. To control the crowds, the County provided additional logistics support, traffic control and beefed-up security.
Throughout the tournament, the inspired play of the Ohana Motors team won praise, genuine respect, and an ever-increasing fan base comprised of teams and spectators from all the participating islands. Paid attendance for the Kauai versus Oahu contest was recorded at 52,721 – breaking the Hawaii record formerly set by that classic Dodgers-Giants game in the Spring of 1977.
In an amazing tribute to the quality of play and competition on the Garden Island, senior teams representing Kauai reached 5 of the 8 Division title games in Kona. The Rebels were the highest ranked remaining Kauai team at the “B” Division level. The Rebels put together an impressive string of three wins on 61 hits while scoring 45 runs in winning their bracket at the Tourney.
The Rebels drew the top team from the other “B” bracket – the “Action” squad from Oahu. Action is an extremely experienced and well coached team of speed demons. They regularly play AJA Baseball and dominate both league and tournament play in the Hawaii softball world. Action breezed through their bracket, racking up three wins and no losses to make it to the title game. They also had a chance to scout the Rebel team as they were spotted watching a couple of the earlier games of the tournament. The scouting report on Action is that they are sprinters that don’t stop on the bases after a hit. Their defense is tight and well-orchestrated with no apparent holes in their hitting line-up. Each hitter has a deadly combination of power and bat control.
Action called upon their pitching ace, right hander Bert Tanaka. After three impressive starts and a little gas remaining in the tank, Gary Yates took the mound for the Rebels. With both pitchers reaching the main event without losing a game, someone had to go down in the final. The stadium announcer opened the contest by re-naming the Rebels “Kauai” to the cheers of an overflow audience.
The Rebels once again were the visitors for the game and had a chance to set the tone at the plate early. With the crowd roaring from the very first pitch, the Rebels showed no fear and racked up three runs on two hits and two errors. Russ McCluskey reached on a fielder’s choice put-out at second. Lambert Alapai steered a line drive into right field giving McCluskey time to motor around the bases. Alapai ended up at second base with a run in and one out. Tom Christy continued his torrid pace and pasted a liner into left scoring Alapai from second. Myles Yoshida was called on to pinch run for Christy. Mark Koehler lifted a ball into left that was muffed as Yoshida scampered home putting three runs on the scoreboard.
Action played up to their name and responded with three of their own in the bottom of the first. The lead-off hitter dumped a base hit into shallow left field. A potential double play grounder to short failed when the toss to second went wide of the bag for an error putting two on with no outs. The next batter hit a ground ball down the line to Robertson at first who threw to second for a force out. With excellent display of speed on the play, one run came across. A slow seeing-eye roller up the middle scored another run. That was followed up by another single with Action coming alive in their dugout on the third run. The seventh man up in the inning hit a searing line drive into right field stabbed by a sprinting Joe Sablan. He fired a strike to first base to catch the runner not tagging up.
The score was tied at three-all after one inning. The crowd was getting their money’s worth with two teams going to battle and neither backing down.
The Rebels wanted more in the second as Gary Yates lead off with a hit up the middle. Larry Rego showed why he led the team in hitting during the tournament with a blazing line drive into center field. Tom Kuhlman delivered a hit as pinch runner Ray Gordon reached third easily. If you make a great play on defense to end an inning, it naturally follows that you’ll do something special at the plate. Joe Sablan proved that to be true with an RBI line drive in the big gap up the middle scoring Gordon. Dave Stevens and Russ McCluskey put up back to back singles to score Sablan and increase the Rebel lead to 5 to 3.
Yates went up against the bottom of the Action lineup in the home half and mowed them down one-two-three. The lead-off hitter grounded a ball into the hole at shortstop that Alapai backhanded and fired a long strike to first to get the runner. The next batter hit a one hopper right back to the mound giving Yates an easy 1-3 put out. The inning ended with the number ten hitter lifting a lazy can of corn (or was it spam?) into left that Stevens put away preserving the 5-3 lead.
The Rebels unleashed a five-run barrage to take control of the game in the top of the third. Tom Christy rapped this second of three hits to lead off and made way for Yoshida to run for him. Koehler found the shifted defense playing him as a pull hitter and promptly drove a corkscrew line drive into right sending Yoshida to third. Joed McCluskey took a base on balls to load the sacks for Robertson. The first baseman got a hanging change-up over the outside corner and drove it deep to right field hitting midway up right field wall near the Rheingold Beer sign for a two run double. Yates kept the pressure on forcing an error at shortstop and picking up an RBI. Larry Rego put some kinda hurt on the ball as he crushed the second double of the inning into left field, opening the plate for Robertson to score the fourth run. Tom Kuhlman came up with a chance to push the fifth and final run across the plate but drew a walk instead to load the bases. Sablan once again came up in an opportunistic spot. The Action right hander tried to get a curve past the Rebel right fielder but missed – Sablan shot a bullet into left allowing Gordon, running for Yates, to walk in with the inning halting run. The Rebels felt a little more comfortable as their lead increased to 10 to 3.
Oahu’s speed demons came up with one run on two hits taking advantage of their patented Runaway Train Base Running. A lead off hit into left got it started. Yates got the next batter to pop up to Alapai at short. But a single into right field put the speed merchants into action as shortstop John Hirota galloped from first to home on the play. Yates rediscovered his fastball and got the next two batters out on a fly to right center and a comebacker.
The crowds grew larger as more people watched the vaunted Rebel hitting machine – everyone in awe of the team’s power and precision. With one out in the top of the fourth Russ McCluskey beat out a grounder to second base for a hit. Alapai drove a ball into right that the fielder dropped for an error putting both runners in scoring position. Christy poked one into center field for an RBI and put runners at the corners. Koehler picked up his second hit on a blistering shot up the middle for an RBI. Joed hit a ball at the shortstop about as hard as a person can hit it – the laser-guided rocket stuck in the stunned shortstop’s glove for an out. Robertson followed and cleared the bases with a two-run liner between the two center fielders. With four more runs going on the scoreboard the Rebels extended their lead to 14 to 4 midway through the game.
A one-out home run by right fielder Charlie Haitsuka trimmed the deficit to 14-5 and Action was still within reach after four complete innings.
The Ohana Motors squad added the 15th run in the fifth. Leading off, Larry Rego came up with his third straight hit and Yoshida went in to run for him. Tom Kuhlman completed his perfect day with a nice crack into center. Joe Sablan scored the runner with his third hit of the game putting the ball into left center. As the run scored the fielder was able to throw to second base for a force out. The Rebels went back on defense with a 15 to 5 lead after four and a half.
Things got interesting in the bottom of the 5th as Action scored three runs on a triple, double, two hits and an error. The lead-off triple followed by a single and double set the stage. Good Rebel defense almost got out of the inning with little damage but one last single brought home the additional tallies. The Rebels found themselves holding on to a 15 to 8 lead going down the stretch.
Both teams were scoreless in the sixth inning with the Rebels pulling off a nice double play – Alapai to Kuhlman to Robertson – in the bottom half to stop a potential rally.
While the Rebels were batting in the top of the seventh, Gary Yates came up with a classic two-out “Reposado Anejo” shot into dead center that was squandered as the Rebels failed to capitalize. It was now up to the Rebel defense – only three outs away from the title and the 2015 championship – but they must record those three outs first.
Action would not go down quietly and opened the bottom of the seventh with a lead-off triple into deep right field by Gerald Kajiwara. Third baseman Wendell Amoy ripped a shot into right center scoring one run (15-9). Top pitcher Tanaka trying to stave off defeat bounced a ball wide of second for a hit as Amoy raced around the bases reaching third. Robertson stopped a ground ball at first base and stepped on the bag trading the out for a run (15-10). Tanaka didn’t miss a beat and took third. A scorching line drive was deftly caught by Alapai at short on a great play, bringing the Rebels to within one out of the State Championship. The number 9 hitter in the order got another base hit, scoring the runner from third to reduce the margin to 15-11. Action was rapidly climbing back into the game in their final at bat. Yates stared down at the tenth batter of the Action line up, catcher Glenn Peterson. The first pitch ran a little deep and was taken for a ball. The runner at first got ready to fly as Peterson looked at a strike in the back corner. Rebel fans were delirious as Yates went to his trusty slider and got a fly ball into right center with Russ McCluskey waiting to put the squeeze on it. Once it hit his glove McCluskey wrapped up the Rebels first State Championship title in just three years of State competition. The Final Scoreboard read Kauai 15 Action 11.
The Rebels found base hits in every possible spot on the field, pounding out 23 in the Championship game while scoring 15 runs over the first five frames to hold on for the impressive win. For the tournament, the Kauai Division B Champs pounded out 84 hits while scoring 60 runs.
The bottom of the Rebel batting order really delivered in the final game as Joe Sablan added three hits in three trips to the plate and Tommy Kuhlman was 2 for 2 with a walk. Tom Christy, J Robertson and Larry Rego were unstoppable going 3 for 4 each. Russ McCluskey, Lambert Alapai, Mark Koehler and Gary Yates contributed to the assault with 2 for 4 plate appearances. Everyone in the Rebel line-up contributed to the 23-hit winning attack. Robertson knocked in 3 runs and Christy, Koehler, Yates and Sablan put up 2 RBI’s each.
After finishing second and then sharing the title in the first two trips to the State Senior Softball Championships, the Rebels earned their way into the highly respected B Division for the 40th annual version of the State Tournament. With the 15 to 11 win over Action, the Rebels finally captured the difficult-to-attain State Championship.
The trophy and Championship were not the only accolades for the Rebels – the team was announced as the choice of the Tournament umpires for the 2015 tournament “Sportsmanship Award.” The Rebels won over the thousands of fans, the appreciation of the umpires, and the respect of their opponents as they headed home undefeated. The Rebels were the highest ranked Kauai team to earn a Division Championship – in a tribute to the overall quality of their home island league, teams from Kauai captured 5 of the 8 Divisions in the tournament.
Following the victory, the Rebels were chauffeured to a private catered celebration with selected friends and guests high in the hills of Mauna Loa at a secret 120-year-old establishment. No can divulge more, sorry.
Hitting: Joe Sablan 3-3, Tom Kuhlman 2-2, Tom Christy 3-4, J Robertson 3-4, Larry Rego 3-4, Russ McCluskey 2-4, Lambert Alapai 2-4, Gary Yates 2-4, Dave Stevens 1-4
Extra Base Hits: 2B) J Robertson, Larry Rego