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Hawaii defeats Arizona in West Region final, returns to Little League World Series

SAN BERNARDINO — It’s had been nearly 30 years since there was a back-to-back champion at the Little League Western Regional headquarters.

Led by hard-throwing right-hander Jaron Lancaster, Honolulu Little League ended that drought, defeating Sidewinder Little League from Peoria, Arizona, 9-2, in the West Region championship game on Friday night to earn a return trip to the Little League World Series.

“It feels great but now I’m looking forward to winning the whole thing,” said Lancaster (2-0), who finished with a tournament-high 19 strikeouts in two starts.

Honolulu Little League, the 2021 West Region winner, won all three games to sweep its way to its second consecutive regional title. Long Beach Little League (1993-’94) was the last team to win back-to-back tournaments in San Bernardino.

The West Region title is also the second in a row for Hawaii manager Gerald Oda at Al Houghton Stadium.

“I’m just very honored and humbled to be here,” Oda said. “Honolulu is a great Little League but on Hawaii there’s a lot of great baseball, whether it’s Kauai, Maui or the Big Island.”

Lancaster struck out seven in 5-2/3 innings as Hawaii’s 11- and 12-year-old state champions earned their spot at the Little League World Series beginning next week in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“We’re very fortunate to be a part of these kids’ lives and it’s almost unbelievable that we get to extend this journey,” said Oda, who also coached Hawaii at the 2018 Little League World Series.

Kekoa Payanal led off the game with a home run as Hawaii totaled a tournament-high 25 runs.

“I saw a fastball to get us on the board and give us an early lead,” said Payanal, who was one last year’s West Region championship roster as well. “I’m just hoping to bring this team the ‘W’ in Williamsport.”

Hawaii took a commanding lead off Arizona starter Erik Lopez in the second inning with six runs on four hits, three walks and two wild pitches for a 7-0 lead.

J.J. Silva, who went 4 for 4 in a West Region semifinal win over Northern California, stroked a solo home run to left field to get Arizona on the scoreboard in the third inning, but Arizona was unable to get much going off Lancaster.

“(Lancaster) is one of the best pitchers in the world and we competed hard against him,” Arizona manager Troy Silva said.

Brennan Tomas homered for Hawaii in the bottom of the third, and Payanal doubled and scored for a 9-1 lead. Payanal reached base four times and scored three runs in the win.

Lancaster doubled and scored in three plate appearances, and Kama Angell had two hits and scored a run for Hawaii, which never trailed in the tournament.

Jonah Hargrave reached on fielder’s choice and scored on an error for Arizona’s final run in the sixth. Arizona had rebounded from losing its tournament opener to reach the title game.

Hawaii defeated Southern California, 3-0, in its opener and Northern California, 13-3, on Monday to reach the final.

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