Behind 5 and 2/3 innings of shutout baseball from Mason Soares, Hanford Little League were crowned champions of the 2019 12/70 West Regionals. Hanford broke through in the top of the sixth inning against Nanakuli, Hawaii flamethrower Damian Griffen. Tournament Most Valuable Player, Noah Gonzalez, hit a Griffen fastball up the middle for a two-run single and Hanford closed it out in the bottom of the frame and were crowned Champions.
This game was the last of what was an incredible week of baseball at Benicia Park. Rohnert Park Cal Ripken Little League hosted the tournament and received praised by both coaches after the game. Both coaches praised the conditions and the fact that all the games started on time. Though Rohnert Park didn’t win the tournament, it was still a banner week for the community.
Colin Demers represented the Rohnert Park All Stars on the All-Tournament Team. This means he was one of the ten best players in the tournament. The All Tournament announcements happened after the game was completed. Three players from Hanford and three from Hawaii were on the team along with Demers and three others, while Gonzalez was named the Most Valuable Player.
The game between Nanakuli and Hanford was hotly contested. Both pitchers were extraordinary, the crowds were loud, and it had some controversy at the end. Hawaii’s coaching staff were not pleased with the umpires after the game and Head Coach Donald Kapaku felt his team was robbed by the umpires and had some choice words for them.
“We never played to the best of our ability,” Kapaku said. “We had very bad calls that never go our way, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”
Meanwhile, on the Hanford side, Head Coach Rigo Tafolla was overcome with emotion. It was clear during the post-game how much this meant to him.
“It’s amazing and I just got overwhelmed and emotional,” Tafolla said. “Because my boys battled all week and played their hearts out, which is what I asked them to do walking into today.”
The boys certainly listened to Coach Tafolla. He was prouder of the pitching staff holding Hawaii’s lineup scoreless. Though his team got the big hit in the top of the inning, what made Tafolla so emotional was the six scoreless innings throw by his pitchers.
“Our ace Mason Soares has done an amazing job since day one,’ Tafolla said. “He was his stoic self, he didn’t get rattled when things got tense and he just did an amazing job, I’m so proud of him.”
For those in the community who follow the Little League World Series, they are aware that the teams play in Williamsport, Pennsylvania after winning their respective regional tournament. Tafolla's Hanford team will travel to Branson, Missouri for the Cal Ripken Major70 World Series which starts Aug. 1 and concludes with the championship game Aug. 10.
As for what Tafolla hopes to accomplish in Missouri. It’s simple.
“The end game for Missouri just like it was here is go out and compete and let the wins take care of themselves. I tell the boys to give me 100 percent effort and play their hearts out and let the wins and losses take care of themselves.”