Sunnyside was faced with the daunting task of winning four games in five days at the West Regional at San Bernardino, Calif., after dropping a tough one against Hawaii in extra innings in the opening round Monday.
Sunnyside managed to win three of them while facing elimination, including one for the ages with a sixth-inning comeback win against Northern California in a semifinal game Friday night.
The last attempt for a win Saturday night was the most difficult against the Little League factory that is Hawaii, which for the second consecutive season beat a Sunnyside team on its way to the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.
Hawaii played nearly flawlessly, beating Sunnyside 4-1 behind a three-run home run by Jaren Pascual in the third inning at Houghton Stadium on Saturday night. Logan Kuloloia, the winning pitcher who limited Sunnyside to two hits in six innings, also hit a home run.
“It was a great season and a great tournament for us with all the great memories that we made,” Sunnyside manager Frank Rivero said over the phone from Houghton Stadium.
Hawaii, which finished 4-0 in the tournament, went on to the World Series title last year after defeating Sunnyside in the early rounds of the regionals. Hawaii managed to defeat the gritty Sunnyside team twice in this tournament. Sunnyside finished 11-2 in the district, state and regional tournaments.
“Scoring one run was not enough against a team like Hawaii,” Rivero said. “We tried to pump up the kids and everything but we couldn’t get our bats going.”
Sunnyside comes home to heavy hearts in Tucson, a community that adopted the southside kids as their own. The sixth-inning rally against Northern California that included a game-tying home run by Izaiah Moraga and a walkoff double by Mikey Muniz will live forever in Little League lore in Tucson.
Twice now, Sunnyside has advanced to the West Regional championship and came up short. It lost the championship game against Northern California in 1984.
Sunnyside’s five times in the West Regional (this year, last year, 1991, 1984 and 1979) ties Nogales National for the most from Southern Arizona.
Most West Regional Little League appearances from Southern Arizona:
Sunnyside — 5
Nogales National — 5
Cactus — 3
Western — 3
Sunnyside struck right away in the first inning on Juan Hernandez’s triple with one out, followed by Damian Lorta’s single to left field.
Hawaii rallied for three runs in the third inning, all scoring on a home run to center field by Pascal with two outs. By the time Hawaii’s rally ended, starter Juan Abril had thrown 48 pitches. He threw 46 in five innings in Sunnyside’s 13-1 win over Nevada on Tuesday.
Abril settled down to pitch 4 2/3 innings, keeping Sunnyside close. Sunnyside’s lineup had trouble, however, against Kuloloai, a lefty who struck out five and did not walk a batter.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.