West O'ahu led year of world champions
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They were the toast of the town, and probably will be forever.
They received a heroes' welcome at the airport, were honored before a football game, had a parade through Waikiki, and visited the governor's mansion.
They were only kids.
The West O'ahu Little League baseball team, ages 11 to 12, captivated and galvanized the state en route to becoming the first team from Hawai'i to win this event that began in 1939.
This feel-good story of the year also was selected as The Ho-nolulu Advertiser's top story of the year.
Other headliners for 2005 included teen golfer Michelle Wie, who turned pro by signing a multi-million contract in October; Bryan Clay, who won the decathlon world championship, and Brian Viloria, who won a world boxing title.
But the Little Leaguers blew away the field, even on an online survey.
"I'm real honored," West O'ahu manager Layton Aliviado said. "I didn't know this would happen. I just wanted to say thanks to the people for supporting us. Hopefully, we made the people happy."
And they did it with power, pitching, and, in the final game, drama.
Down 6-3 in the final inning, West O'ahu tied it in exciting fashion in the sixth to force extra innings, where catcher Mike Memea's lead-off homer in the seventh won it and sent fans from Williamsport to 'Ewa into a wild celebration.
So stunning was the victory over defending champion Curacao that ESPN would select it as one of its top games of the year.
ESPN ranked the game No. 9 on its list of best year-end games. Also among the top 10 were Tiger Woods' victory in The Masters, the Astros' 18-inning, 6-hour victory over the Braves. USC's football victory over Notre Dame was No. 1.
Since winning the World Series, Aliviado said, "things have changed a little bit" for himself and his team.
"When we go out in public, people say, 'Hey, you're the coach and congratulations!' And they shake my hand," Aliviado said. "And the kids get noticed. It touched the people that a team from Hawai'i won the World Series."
Aliviado said his best memory is making it to Williamsport, and "meeting the people from all over the world," such as coaches from Russia, Japan, Guam and Mexico. He also said he enjoyed the competition.
"It was a neat experience," Aliviado said. "On the wall in the cafeteria in Williamsport, there's a hall-of-fame wall. It goes all the way back to the beginning of Little League. It has all the Little League World Series champions on it. I used to look at that wall and say, 'I wonder if we could ever make this wall?' If I do go back in the future, our picture is going to be on that wall. That's a mean memory for me — the wall of fame."
TOP STORIES OF 2005
WEST O'AHU LITTLE LEAGUERS WIN LLWS
Michael Memea hit a walk-off, seventh-inning home run on Aug. 28 at Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., as West O'ahu capped a dramatic comeback, defeating defending world champion Curacao, 7-6, and captured the state's first Little League world championship for 11- and 12-year-olds.
"It's a dream come true," West O'ahu manager Layton Aliviado said as he held the world championship plaque in his hands.
West O'ahu staged a dramatic rally, scoring three times in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game at 6 and force extra innings. The comeback forced only the second extra-inning title game in 59 years and the first since 1971.
Vonn Fe'ao made sure West O'ahu kept its momentum in the seventh inning. He appeared to throw harder and harder with every pitch in the seventh.
"I was angry the whole time," Fe'ao said. "I was on fire."
Memea capped one of the most exciting Little League World Series games in history by lining Christopher Garia's 3-2 offering over the center-field fence while leading off the seventh inning.
Memea raised his right arm in triumph as he rounded first base and many of the 25,506 in attendance offered a standing ovation. Memea was then swarmed by teammates who were eager to congratulate the first player in title game history to hit a walk-off home run.
"I felt excited to hit the home run," Memea said. "I knew it was gone when I hit it."
West O'ahu finished the year 18-0. It also outscored six World Series opponents, 39-11, an impressive achievement for a state that had produced just one national finalist, Pearl City in 1988.
"We're the first. We made history," said Aliviado. "I knew when we won in (regionals) in San Bernardino that we had a chance. The way the boys played I knew we could win."
A YEAR OF DECISION, DRAMA FOR WIE
Wherever she goes, headlines seem to follow Michelle Wie, the world's most famous teenage golfer.
Her year went this way:
Wie's turning pro was an announcement that everyone expected yet it still boggled the mind.
She was just 15 (she turned 16 Oct. 11) when she proclaimed she would turn pro and immediately became the best-paid female golfer in the world.
"From the first time I grabbed a golf club I knew I'd do it for the rest of my life. I loved it," Wie said at a press conference beamed worldwide from the Kahala Mandarin Oriental. "Here I am 12 years later and I'm finally a pro. I'm so excited."
"She will be as popular as you have ever seen an American athlete in Asia," said Wie's business manager, Ross Berlin.
CLAY WINS WORLD DECATHLON TITLE
Bryan Clay can now be called the finest all-around athlete on the planet.
The Castle High alum won the decathlon at the 10th World Championships of Track and Field Aug. 10, outclassing 24 competitors, including rival Roman Sebrle, and overcoming horrendous weather to win the world title by the largest margin in 14 years.
"I've been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, since I was 8 years old. I'm just glad these dreams are starting to come true," said Clay, an undersized — for a decathlete — but overachieving 5-foot-11, 185-pound Azusa Pacific graduate.
Sebrle of the Czech Republic, the reigning Olympic champion and only man ever to score more than 9,000 points in this 10-event struggle of mind, muscle and macho-dom, was expected to challenge for the gold. Instead, Clay broke free early into the second-day program, beat Sebrle in four straight events and won going away.
Clay amassed 8,732 points to Sebrle's 8,521, but numbers don't begin to tell the story. Clay conquered the rain, wind and cold, as well as a field from around the world, to become the first Hawai'i athlete to win a world track title.
"Bryan was awesome," marveled Dan O'Brien, the former world record-holder and 1996 Olympic champion. "He controlled everything."
VILORIA WINS WBC TITLE WITH STUNNING KO
Waipahu's Brian Viloria recorded a devastating first-round knockout on Sept. 10 against Eric Ortiz of Mexico City to win the World Boxing Council light-flyweight title at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Viloria, 24, and Ortiz were to meet July 30 Las Vegas, but the bout was scratched when one of the headline fighters withdrew because of injury.
Fighting at 108 pounds for the first time in his career — four pounds less than his previous 17 fights — Viloria appeared to have the edge on Ortiz from the start.
Viloria (18-0, 12 KOs) landed two hard rights to the side of Ortiz's head in the opening minute of the scheduled 12-round fight. A left jab sent Ortiz (24-5-1, 16 KOs) onto his heels about a minute later. Just after the 10-second warning, Ortiz threw a weak left and tried to follow with a right. But Viloria countered by slamming his right hand against Ortiz's chin, causing him to immediately drop to the canvas.
Ortiz struggled to his feet by the count of eight, but then stumbled backward and fell to the floor as referee Raul Caiz, Jr. stopped the fight with one second remaining in the round.
"This is the best feeling in the world, for any boxer," Viloria said. "I've spent days and days staying away from a lot of foods to become world champion, (doing) a lot of road work and running away from dogs that chase you."
UH FOOTBALL ENDURES CHANGES, MISSES BOWL
Coach June Jones wooed former NFL coach Jerry Glanville out of retirement to be defensive coordinator for the University of Hawai'i.
The Warriors even changed the color of their helmets and road uniforms, looking more like the NFL Raiders.
They introduced a group of new ball-handling players. Gone were Timmy Chang and Chad Owens and in their place were Colt Brennan and Davone Bess.
They opened the season against No. 1-ranked USC and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
They finished the season with a 49-38 victory over San Diego State, ending with a 5-7 record while missing the Hawai'i Bowl for the first time in four years.
Brennan and Bess provided highlights and some took notice. Bess, who emerged as the team's best receiver, garnered freshman All-America honors.
ALCOHOL BAN AT STADIUM DRAWS MIXED REVIEWS
The proposal to ban alcohol at University of Hawai'i football games gained momentum during the summer and continues to be a topic of discussion.
It was hoped the ban would be in place by the UH season opener Sept. 3. Then bureaucracy took over. November became a target date, then December. The proposal also was narrowed from a total ban to a parking-lot ban. The issue is still not settled.
The Aloha Stadium Authority delayed its vote on the proposed ban to Jan. 26.
Supporters say a ban will provide safety and help curb underage drinking and alcohol-fueled misbehavior at Aloha Stadium. Opponents believe the plan will ruin tailgating tradition, decrease attendance and cause enforcement headaches.
UH HOOP TEAM UPSETS NO. 4 MICHIGAN STATE
The season opener for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team turned into a national eye-opener.
The Rainbow Warriors scored one of the biggest upsets in the program's history in an 84-62 victory over No. 4 Michigan State Nov. 19.
The only higher-ranked team that Hawai'i upset was No. 2 Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic.
"This is huge for us," Hawai'i senior forward Julian Sensley said. "I've never experienced anything like it. It's what we all dream of in high school, playing in this kind of atmosphere."
"We didn't play well, they played well," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "They deserve the credit that they get. That's an NCAA (Tournament) team, I don't think there's any question about that."
RAINBOW WAHINE START SLOW, REACH SWEET 16
The University of Hawai'i women's volleyball team started the season 0-2, struggled to 6-6, then won 21 in a row while also winning its eighth consecutive Western Athletic Conference title.
But again, the NCAA Tournament committee was not kind to the Rainbow Wahine, sending them to Austin for their first sub-regional just days after UH returned from the WAC Tournament in Reno, Nev. UH steamrolled through the Austin sub-regional, beating Texas State and host Texas. That earned UH a trip to Penn State.
But the Rainbow Wahine were turned away at the doorstep to the final four, losing to Missouri in the NCAA Regional semifinal in State College, Pa.
"I think the travel and being on the road so much the last three weeks finally caught up to us," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "The kids didn't have enough gas. We didn't have another gear to go to. We kind of ran out of magic here at the end."
YOUTH BASEBALL HITS UNPRECEDENTED HEIGHTS
West O'ahu wasn't the only Hawai'i team to reach a youth baseball World Series.
Seven teams — believed to be an unprecedented number — advanced to areas ranging from Chino Hills, Calif., to Aberdeen, Md.
All had to win state tournaments, then a regional tournament to reach their final destination.
Six were from O'ahu and one was from Hilo.
Two — Cal Ripken's 12-under and West O'ahu's 11-12 — won it all.
The Ripken team defeated Mexico, 1-0, in Aberdeen, Md.
Three other teams — PONY 13, Babe Ruth 13-15 and Little League 15-16 — lost in the final. Another — Little League 13-14 — lost in the semifinals.
KAHUKU WINS STATE FOOTBALL IN A THRILLER
In a dramatic finish, before the biggest prep crowd of the year, Kahuku rallied, then held on to defeat Punahou, 28-21, in the First Hawaiian Bank Division I state football championship.
An Aloha Stadium crowd of 24,667 watched the Red Raiders (11-1) come back from a 21-12 deficit early in the fourth quarter to nail down their fourth title in six years.
Running back Malosi Te'o rushed for 262 yards, including a 79-yard TD run that pulled Kahuku to 21-20 with 7:47 left in the game. Kahuku then recorded a safety for a 22-21 lead, got another touchdown after an interception for a 28-21 lead, before Punahou mounted a comeback. The Buffanblu drove to the Kahuku 3 with 28 seconds left. But on first down, Suaesi Tuimaunei intercepted a pass in the end zone.
"It was a great game like we anticipated it to be," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said. "This could have gone either way."
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS IN '05
Iolani dribbled and shot its way into the record book on Feb. 26, racing past Kahuku, 62-51, for its unprecedented fourth straight Hawai'i High School Athletic Association championship. The Raiders, with only one senior starter, finished the season with an overall record of 30-2. Senior Kyle Pape scored a game-high 27 points against Kahuku, and finished with 93 points in three tournament games.
In a first, Punahou, Saint Louis and Kamehameha all finished in a tie for first place, forcing an odd playoff for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu title. Punahou drew a bye and watched Saint Louis oust Kamehameha. Punahou then defeated Saint Louis to win its first title since 1977.
The Raiders defeated Radford, 34-20, to win its first state football title.
Kaua'i-native Andy Irons captured surfing's triple crown, but the three-time defending champion lost the world title to Kelly Slater.
Former Saint Louis and Hawai'i Pacific University athlete Benny Agbayani led Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japan World Series and was later named Most Valuable Player of the Konami Cup, Asia's World Series.
Teen phenom Freddy Adu and the D.C. United defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, in an exhibition at Aloha Stadium on Feb. 26. It was the first time since 1977 that a soccer match of this caliber is played in Hawai'i..
The Hawai'i Mega Force played two games into its inaugural basketball season before folding.
The college all-star game left Maui and War Memorial Stadium and returned to its original home.
Nearly 15,000 fans watched the Lakers and Warriors split a pair of exhibition games on Oct. 12 and 13 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Kobe Bryant scored 39 points in the two games.
Kenya's Jimmy Muindi won the men's race for the fifth time and Russia's Olesya Nurgalieva won the women's race for the first time.
Akebono was KO'd by Korea's Hong-Man Choi in the K1 World Grand Prix in Hawai'i, July 29 at Aloha Stadium. Hilo's BJ Penn outpointed Brazil's Renzo Gracie in the co-main event.
Stephanie Kono, a Punahou sophomore, won the Westfield PGA Junior Championship and the Harder Junior German Masters. Cyd Okino, 12, became the youngest to capture the State Women's Match Play Championship. Tadd Fujikawa, a Moanalua freshman, won the Hickam Amateur and reached the final of the prestigious Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Junior.
Kapa'a won the state boys volleyball Division II title and St. Francis was tops among girls. The Troubadours also won the Division II softball crown.
Former UH football player Niko Vitale beat Japan's Masanori Suda on April 9 for the Super Brawl World Championship at 185 pounds only to lose the belt to Jason "Mayhem" Miller on Oct. 28.
The Lihu'e Patriots defeated the Hollister Vikings (San Jose, Calif.), 14-0, to win a Pop Warner Super Bowl title Dec. 9 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. The Patriots, playing in Pee Wee Division II for 9- to 11-year-olds, became the first Hawai'i team to win a championship since the competition moved to Orlando in 1996.