Isolated from family, Hawaii Little Leaguers keep winning

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Hawaii second baseman Zack Bagoyo knows he’s lucky.

While it took skill and Zack’s entire 4-foot-8 frame to make two leaping catches in his team’s 2-0 victory over Michigan on Wednesday night at the Little League World Series, his good fortune extends to having his father, Kevin, on the coaching staff as an assistant.

Until they’re eliminated, all 16 teams at the tournament have been isolated to protect them from the coronavirus, living in the dormitories onsite in South Williamsport because the players are ages 10 to 12 and not eligible for vaccinations. While most players haven’t had close contact with their families during the tournament, the two Bagoyos have been together every step of the way.

“Obviously, it’s a little easier for me having my dad as a coach in the dorm to help me out,” Zack said. “A negative (of being in a COVID bubble) is not getting to interact with our parents and our supporters.”

Hawaii’s players and coaches have been quarantined from their families since Aug. 6, just before the start of the West regional tournament in San Bernardino, California.

But for some families, the time apart has been greater than a few weeks. Kirk Nakama, father of utility player Cade Nakama, hasn’t hugged his son in nearly two months while the boy has played ball.

“It’s been tough. We’ve all got to do our part to keep our bubble tight,” Kirk said. “But we’re going to love to get the kids into our arms again.”

On the mound Wednesday night, pitcher Ryan Keanu was nearly perfect, allowing only a fifth inning single to Chauncey Adkins. He got some big help in the field, both from Zack at second and Kaikea Patoc-Young, who robbed Cameron Thorning of a home run over the wall in center field in the fourth inning.

When Keanu completed his 60-pitch shutout, he briefly celebrated with his teammates before looking toward the stands.

“Not seeing (my parents) as often as I would back at home is disappointing,” Keanu said.

Manager Brandon Sardinha’s team now is just two wins away from clinching Honolulu Little League’s second world championship since 2018. The win over Michigan moved Hawaii into one semifinal, while South Dakota earned a spot in the other semifinal thanks to Gavin Weir’s no-hitter in a 1-0 win over California. Gavin also pitched most of a combined no-no earlier in the tournament.

Both South Dakota and “Da Boys” from Hawaii are undefeated in the LLWS, and the team from Honolulu doesn’t even have a key player, Tyler Shindo. An ambidextrous pitcher, Shindo stayed with the team through regionals but is not in South Williamsport. Instead, he’s in North Carolina for Team USA’s National Team Identification Series.

“Some people got hurt and some got sick,” Sardinha said. “That was a damper, but everybody else that was still here, they picked each other up and they played for those guys that could not be here. That’s our motto as a team, to back each other up, no matter if they’re here or not.”

Even with outside distractions, or maybe lack thereof, Hawaii continues to win. If it can take two more games this weekend, the club would not only secure another title for Honolulu but a fourth Hawaii championship in 16 years.

“In the dorm, you would think they would maybe be a little tired of baseball. But it is constantly baseball,” Sardinha said. “They’re playing wiffleball in the dorm. It’s nonstop until the wee hours in the night.”

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Andrew Destin is a sports journalism student at Penn State.

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