Legion Baseball flashback: Revisiting Hawaii’s 2 ALWS titles

Legion Baseball flashback: Revisiting Hawaii’s 2 ALWS titles

Just two years after Hawaii gained statehood in 1959, it became a mainstay in American Legion Baseball.

The largest island in the United States also showed it played a competitive brand of baseball that has resulted in two American Legion World Series titles, two ALWS runner-up finishes, nine regional championships and 12 regional runner-up finishes.

Hawaii’s ALWS titles came in 1980 and in 1995 with star pitchers leading them to their titles.

The 1980 Honolulu Moiliili team snapped the state’s longest regional title drought — 18 years — by going unbeaten in the Northwest Regional in Yakima, Wash., then coming through the loser’s bracket to win three straight games in the ALWS in Ely, Minn.

That title run was led by future 15-year major league pitcher Sid Fernandez, who set a then-record for national competition with 55 strikeouts in regional and ALWS play.

Fernandez struck out 18 in a 2-1 win over Casper, Wyo., in a regional first round game before striking out 19 in a 1-0 no-hit victory over defending ALWS champion Yakima, Wash., in the regional final.

In Moiliili's other three regional games, they rallied for victories: trailing 12-8 against Bellevue, Wash., before winning 13-12; trailing 5-3 against Yakima before winning 11-5; and trailing 8-0 before edging Roseburg, Ore., 9-8, in 12 innings.

Coach Clyde Hayashida’s team took 13 players to the ALWS as five chose to honor football commitments rather than play baseball.

In its ALWS first round game, Fernandez scattered 11 hits and struck out 10 in a 3-2 victory over Waukegan, Ill.

After advancing to the winner’s bracket final with a 6-1 win behind Ross Hayashi’s six-hitter over Palo Alto, Calif., perennial power Boyertown, Pa., knocked Moiliili into the loser’s bracket with a 6-3 victory.

Due to rain during the event, Moiliili had to play back-to-back doubleheaders in the last two days of the ALWS and Fernandez pitched on back-to-back days.

Shortly after losing to Boyertown, Fernandez started and went four innings of a comfortable 14-3 win over New Orleans, then went six innings in a 7-4 victory over Hialeah, Fla., to advance to a winner-take-all finale against Boyertown.

In that championship game, pitchers Gary Nishikawa (7 innings) and Marlin Van Vleet (2 innings) combined in a 5-4 victory highlighted by Lance Belen’s game-winning two-run home run in the fifth inning.

In addition to Fernandez, Belen (5 years in the minor leagues), Keith Komeiji (3 years) and Hayashi (1 year) played professional baseball.

In 1995, Aiea finished 34-5 under the direction of Alan Higuchi with a team that featured a pair of former Little League World Series runners-up for Pearl City in 1988 (Jason Adaro and Kevin Bagoyo).

A regional runner-up in 1994, Aiea won five straight Western Regional games at Las Vegas after losing its first round game, then went 4-1 in the ALWS to become Hawaii’s second champion.

Adaro hit .488 in national competition and pitched the championship game of both the regional and the ALWS.

After losing to Las Vegas Western 6-3 in the regional opener, Aiea knocked off Albuquerque, N.M., 13-2; San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 8-6; Las Vegas Western, 4-1; and the Las Vegas Knights twice (13-3 and 15-0 in 7 innings each time) to complete its regional comeback.

Adaro threw a one-hitter in the 15-0 victory and Lon Yamaguchi hit .460 with 12 RBIs to earn regional MVP honors.

In the ALWS, Shawn Nakamura and Adaro thew back-to-back shutouts — 2-0 over Waldorf, Md., and 3-0 over Rapid City, S.D. — and Delane Bartley pitched a 3-2 win over Columbia, Tenn., before Osseo, Minn., routed Aiea 10-0 in 7 innings.

However, the following day, Adaro completed a postseason in which he threw 24 scoreless innings by throwing a four-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 2-0 victory over Bellevue, Wash., for the ALWS championship.

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Today, the program registers more than 5,400 teams in all 50 states, including Canada and Puerto Rico.

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