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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 21, 2008

Waipio's Little Leaguers will play for U.S. championship Saturday

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Waipi'o's Pikai Winchester hit two home runs, including this one in the third inning of yesterday's Little League World Series game.

TOM E. PUSKAR | Associated Press

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U.S. Championship: Waipi'o vs. winner of today’s Tampa, Fla., vs. Lake Charles, La., semifinal

When: Saturday, 9 a.m. Hawai'i time, ABC (KITV)

• U.S. and International winners to meet Sunday for World Championship


Cheer on the team from Waipiço as it heads to the U.S. Championship. Post your best wishes here

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Cheers erupted at the Sofa So Good Learning Center in Kapolei after Tanner Tokunaga hit a two-run homer. Waipi'o won, 9-4.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Billy Duhay was among the Waipi'o supporters in the stands as the team played Mill Creek, Wash. Waipi'o can earn a berth in the Little League World Series championship game with a victory Saturday.

TOM E. PUSKAR | Associated Press

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Folks were appropriately attentive at the Sofa So Good Learning Center in Kapolei before the start of yesterday's Little League World Series semifinal game between Waipi'o and Mill Creek, Wash.

The small, private home-schooling center located in the home of Linda and Faitala Sofa at 91-1003 Lehulehu St. is the modern-day equivalent of the old one-room school houses of a century ago.

Yesterday, 14 students sat in the family room quietly munching popcorn while eyeing the flat-screen TV tuned to ESPN in the kitchen a few feet away.

But the tension was palpable. One of the Waipi'o players, Christian "C-Boy" Donahue, is a student at the school. And his dad, Timo Donahue, is the team's coach.

C-Boy's mom, Raena Donahue, is a teaching assistant at Sofa So Good, and his younger sister and brother, Tia and Jordan, are also students.

In 2005, when the West O'ahu team made history as Little League World Series champions, one of that team's star players, Alaka'i Aglipay, also was a student at Sofa So Good.

"Christian knew Alaka'i and looked up to him," Linda Sofa said. "He told Christian, 'Your day will come.' "

That day turned out to be yesterday.

And, if all that weren't enough drama, there was this: Timo Donahue and Mill Creek coach Scott Mahlum are pals who both graduated from the University of Washington and, frankly, weren't too keen on being a part of the first-ever high stakes Little League matchup between both squads. So much was on the line.

Still, things remained relatively calm at Sofa So Good throughout the top half of the first inning, which ended with Waipi'o trailing Mill Creek 2-0.

"I think they've got good reason to be scared," said Kalai Ortiz, 8, who is a pitcher for the West Side Bombers, and wore his uniform to school for the occasion to prove it. "The Washington team is big."


It didn't help that the ESPN announcer was referring to Mill Creek as the series "comeback team" for having survived two previous elimination games.

Then, the excitement level at the school ratcheted up considerably when Waipi'o's Tanner Tokunaga tied the score with a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the first inning. That set up what became ESPN's Play of The Game when Iolana Akau, 13 — who had received a hairline fracture on his left elbow in an earlier game and whose participation yesterday was in doubt even up to game time — blasted a 1-2 pitch from Derrick Mahlum (the coach's son) out of the ball park, giving Waipi'o a two-run lead.

They didn't relinquish that lead for the rest of the game.

From that point on, school was pretty much out at Sofa So Good.

Decorum has its limits.

"This is so exciting," yelled Kayla Shim, 13, of 'Ewa, who was one of several girls in the second row who emitted shrill screams throughout the next five innings. "This is so awesome. I was in Iolana's class in fifth and sixth grade at St. Joseph's in Waipahu. He's real funny. And he's real smart."

Meanwhile, Linda Sofa, the school teacher, was attempting to maintain a semblance of education amid the pandemonium by helping a 3-year-old boy with his lessons behind a closed door in a different room. Still, she managed to return to the kitchen and family room frequently to keep an eye on the game and to pass out slices of chocolate cake and banana cream pie during the special occasion.

"This is a rarity, watching TV," she said.

"My wife has a passion for teaching kids," said Faitala Sofa — a professional golfer — who was nearly sent to his room at one point by his wife for inadvertently cheering for the wrong side.

At the top of the sixth inning the room erupted when C-Boy came in as pitcher.

"He's a kind of go-to guy on the team," said Jonathan Borgia, 27, Linda Sofa's son, who also teaches at the school. "He doesn't say a lot, but they look up to him."


Meanwhile, several of the female students had turned into a cheering section.

"Let's go C-Boy! Let's go!" they shouted in unison.

Following a shaky beginning in which he walked a player, C-Boy got on target and struck out two players — including 6-foot-2 Jason Todd, who looked to be Mill Creek's biggest last hope.

"One more out and we win, Mrs. Sofa," yelled Shim.

"I know — I can't hardly stand it!" cried Sofa, who was peeking at the screen from the adjacent room where she was attempting to tutor two students who were peeking as well.

And then, suddenly, it was all over. Waipi'o won, 9-4.

"They have to win two more games to become world champions, right?" Linda Sofa yelled through the din and commotion, verifying what she already knew.

On Saturday, Waipi'o will go up against the winner of today's Louisiana-Florida semifinal game for the U.S. Championship to be aired nationally on ABC. On Sunday, the U.S. champs will face the international champions for the world title, which also will be televised on ABC.

"I'm not going to get a thing accomplished this weekend," sighed Sofa.

The Williamsport series is the oldest and most famous of the youth baseball World Series. That division was developed in 1939, held its first tournament in 1947 and received national TV coverage from as early as 1953.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.