The noise from the crowd and the tension on the field did little to faze Justice Nakagawa on Wednesday.
The Mililani shortstop played on the Waipio team that won the U.S. Championship at the Little League World Series in 2010, and his experience playing on a big stage comes in handy at this time of year. Especially when late-inning pressure builds in a state tournament game.
Such was the case Wednesday as Mililani protected a lead against top-seeded and defending champion Mid-Pacific.
Nakagawa drove in three runs to help the Trojans build a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of the quarterfinal matchup. But Mid-Pacific can be counted on to play to the final out, which the Owls did again on Wednesday while cutting the lead to one with the tying run on second and two out.
Mililani pitcher Micah Chinen kept his composure and induced a grounder that Nakagawa scooped up and threw to first baseman Ty Desa — a Waipio teammate in 2010 — for the final out of the Trojans’ 5-4 upset.
Mililani advanced to the semifinals and will face Kailua at 4 p.m. Thursday at Les Murakami Stadium.
After playing in front of packed stands at Lamade Stadium on national television as 12-year olds, the Waipio products are accustomed to performing in high-stakes games.
“We don’t get as nervous because we’ve played in front of all those people,” said Nakagawa, who went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs. “It’s a good experience.”
Along with Nakagawa and Desa, Mililani pitcher Brysen Yoshii was also part of the Waipio team that captured the state’s affection in 2010.
Noah Shackles, another Waipio product, was on the other side of the field as Mid-Pacific’s starting catcher. Shackles went 2-for-3 and sparked the Owls’ seventh-inning rally with a leadoff single. But Nakagawa ended it by handling his fifth grounder of the game.
“He’s been there before and he just did great job making the routine play,” Mililani coach Mark Hirayama said. “That’s what we tell them, we gotta make the routine plays. Our pitchers are going throw strikes and put the ball in play and we just have to help them out by making the routine play and they did a good job tonight.”
Chinen gave his defense those opportunities on Wednesday.
He was a member of the junior varsity team last year and was in the stands at Murakami Stadium when a seventh-inning rally sent MPI to a 3-1 over Mililani in the state final.
“I’ve always pictured playing here,” Chinen said.
He finished the night with one walk and one strikeout while holding MPI to four hits in a complete-game victory.
“Micah’s been great for us all season,” Hirayama said. “You can always count on him to be around the plate and go after batters and be aggressive. That’s what we needed tonight, especially against Mid-Pac.”