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Mustangs come up short

EUGENE — Indomitable, irrepressible, seemingly impervious to pressure and utterly endearing, Waipahu won twice on Monday to win the Northwest Regional American Legion baseball tournament at Swede Johnson Stadium and earn a trip to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., for the second straight year.

In 100-degree heat, the Hawaii state champions, with just a 13-player roster, defeated Boise, 7-4, in a loser-out game, and then defeated the Oregon state champions, the Medford Mustangs, 8-6 in the championship game.

The outcome wasn’t decided until the bottom of the ninth, when the third Waipahu pitcher, Josh Inouye, surrendered singles to Micah Brown and David Crofton, bringing the potential winning run to the plate three straight times — and retired the side on a strikeout, a fielder’s choice and an infield grounder.

“The boys gutted it out, man,” Waipahu coach Oly Gante said. “They wanted to win again, so they did it. ... Unbelievable feeling again. Even better than last year because we’ve got 13 strong here.”

With a short roster because of school commitments — and after the win, Gante was figuring out how to get ace pitcher Caleb Duhay back to Shelby because of school starting soon — Waipahu players were tested mightily after losing the opener here and then winning five straight for the title.

Inouye got the save Monday after pitching a complete-game victory Sunday, with the win going to Tanner Tokunaga, normally the center fielder, who went seven innings, allowing four earned runs.

“He hasn’t pitched in over two months, but he has a bulldog mentality,” Gante said. “He’ll battle all the way.”

Catcher Kamalu Neal caught both games Monday.

“We only have 13 on our team,” Neal said. “We all have to play hard. ... It feels good going back to Shelby, that’s all I can say. It’s great over there.”

The World Series begins Thursday, with the Northwest champions (23-4-1) opening pool play on Friday against the Mid-South champions at 5 p.m. PDT, in a game that will be streamed online on ESPN3.

Medford’s season ends at 35-15, after a state Legion title and, for the nucleus of players from North Medford High School, a state 6A title.

“I thought the guys competed,” coach Nate Mayben said. “They played hard. It’s a big moment and there were nerves, but that’s going to happen in this situation. ... I’m proud of the way the guys came out and played, and we were a couple of knocks away from it being on the other end of the stick.”

Mayben said Waipahu is “a great ballclub. They’ve got good players, they play the game the right way, they play it hard. If I’m going to lose to somebody, I don’t mind losing to those guys.”

Micah Brown, the Medford shortstop who hit .520 with 13 hits, three home runs and 22 RBIs, was named the tournament MVP.

“Amazing,” Mayben said of Brown’s performance. “That was impressive to watch and be part of, and I’m just happy for him, because he puts a lot of work into this game, and it paid off.”

Waipahu drove Medford starter Carter Glick out of the game in a three-run second inning. Meanwhile, Tokunaga kept the Mustangs off the board for the first four innings, pitching out of jams in the second, third and fourth. With runners on second and third with one out in the second, he struck out Josh Berman and retired Jared Evans on a comebacker. With runners on first and third with two outs in the third, he got Bryce Rogan to ground to second. In the same situation in the fourth, he retired Isaiah Luzny on a liner to center.

The Mustangs broke through in the fifth, with the help of a Waipahu error, to pull within 3-2, but Waipahu came right back, driving reliever Colton Westfall from the game in the sixth. Matt Tsutomi led off with a single, Dylan Sugimoto walked and Neal beat out a bunt to load the bases. Tokunaga walked to force in Tsutomi, and Sugimoto scored when Brent Sakurai reached safely on a fielder’s choice, Brown’s attempt to get an out at third on the grounder was unsuccessful. Mopas singled to drive in Neal.

That was the end for Westfall, relieved by Cody Coggins, who surrendered a sacrifice fly to right by Cameron Igarashi before getting Bottom to hit into an inning-ending double play.

The Mustangs pulled within 7-5 with three runs in the seventh, the rally starting when Tokunaga hit Austin Zavala with a two-out, 3-2 pitch. Rogan singled, the runners advanced on a passed ball, and Brown drove in his 21st and 22nd runs of the tournament with a single to left. Crofton singled to move Brown to third, and Berman drove him home with Medford’s fourth straight hit.

Waipahu got one of those runs back in the eighth when Tokunaga singled, took second on an infield out and scored on Bottom’s two-out single to center. Taylor Raff hit a solo homer, after a Waipahu double play, for Medford in the eighth to make it 8-6, but the Mustangs could get no closer.

Waipahu, HI 030 004 010 — 8 10 4

Medford 000 020 310 — 6 13 1

Tokunaga, Sugimoto (8) Inouye (9) and Neal; Glick, Westfall (2), Coggins (6) and Zavala. W — Tokunaga. L — Glick. S — Inouye. HR — M: Raff. T — 2:46. A — 400.

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The Medford Mustangs gather around their second place trophy after losing to Hawaii in the championship game of the Northwest Regional in Eugene Monday. PHOTO BY RYAN KANG.