The CNMI Junior All-Stars had a beach barbecue party near Aquarius Resort in Chalan Kanoa last Saturday to celebrate their finals appearance in the 2012 Asia Pacific Regional Tournament held in Vietnam earlier this month.
The Commonwealth players won four of their five games in the pool play, falling only to eventual champion Chinese-Taipei in the elimination, 1-5. The CNMI started out with three wins, besting Hong Kong, 8-2; routing host team Vietnam, 21-0; and downing Philippines, 3-2, before stumbling to Chinese-Taipei, 1-5.
The CNMI Junior All-Stars went on finish second overall and got another crack at Chinese-Taipei after 9-2 victory over Indonesia and an exciting 3-2 playoff win over the Philippines.
The CNMI would fall to Taipei in the finals, 1-5, but still took a lot of positive things from the finals experience.
“I and head coach Randall Aguon are very proud of the way the boys competed this year. They were all business on the field in every game and gave it their all. We would like to send out a great thanks to representatives Ray Yumul, Joe Guerrero, and Ton Sablan, Senator Pete Reyes, Delloite & Touche, the parents of the players, everyone in the community that chipped in on our coin drives, the Saipan Little League Baseball, Inc. board of directors, especially Annie Flores and treasurer Roman Reyes, CNMI District Administrator James Ada, and his wife Lilian, and Lynn Duenas for making the trip possible,” said manager Bernard Cabrera in an interview last Saturday.
Besides advancing to the finals, CNMI players also took home individual awards. Kainoa Wanket was chosen the best pitcher of the tournament, Jhace Palacios was selected as a gold glove centerfielder, Kenji Yamagata was declared the fastest base runner, and Darion Jones came away with home run derby bragging rights. All four players were presented with individual trophies.
Other members of the team were Jonathan Camacho, Jerald Cabrera, Kelvin Deleon Guerrero, Terson Eina, Mike Muna, Nathan Camacho, Virolanson Secharmedal, and Roke Tenorio.
In a recap of the CNMI's title run, an early solo blast from Jones got the team's engine started in its first match against Hong Kong. After that, the hits came in bunches, while Wanket, Palacios, and Mike Muna split time on the mound.
The CNMI coaches purposely tried to partition their pitchers to under 30 pitches per appearance in effort to keep as many weapons to their disposal on any given day. They also stressed to their guys the importance of throwing strikes, which is essential in order for the strategy to work.
Against Vietnam, the CNMI coaches believed the host country is still very much in a developmental state because, being primarily a soccer nation, it is relatively new to the sport. However, the visiting team attests that Vietnam have the spirit to play if only it had better coaching and more resources to further develop its programs.
Meanwhile, CNMI coaches agreed their best games were against the Philippines with the Commonwealth prevailing on both meetings.
In the first match, Kanoa almost pitched a complete game and received an early 1-0 lead after Muna scored on a passed ball. The Philippines tied it up at 1-all in the third inning, but a double to right field by Jerald Cabrera gave the lead back to the CNMI, 2-1.
The Philippines answered back with a couple hits in the bottom frame to knot the count at 2-all, but in the end, Rokie Tenorio delivered the go-ahead run with a double to the left side that scored Cabrera, and Palacios secured the close for Wanket in the last inning of regulation.
Playing with less pressure in its last pool play match against Indonesia, CNMI teed off at the plate and executed its pitching strategy very well heading into the playoffs.
Up next was the Philippines again and Muna broke the ice in the knockout match, but the former answered in the third inning with a solo homer to force a deadlock, 1-all.
Then Nathan Camacho drove in Terson Eina for a 2-1 advantage and after the Philippines tied up soon after, Eina belted the game-winner to put the CNMI in the finals.
As for Chinese-Taipei, the CNMI coaching staff acknowledged the host's well-rounded arsenal of pitching, hitting, and defense. CNMI put the bats on the ball, but many were swallowed up by Chinese-Taipei's squeaky-clean infield and a lot also turned to a number of impressive double plays.
A number of errors also cost the CNMI in key moments of the games, but there was absolutely no shame in capturing runner-up honors.
The team also got to play a scrimmage match with some adult volunteers. The CNMI showed the greenhorn adult players a thing or two about America's favorite past time, winning the friendly match via run rule. Vietnam youth players acted as coaches and managers during the game, while the CNMI coaches took the umpire roles.
“It was a lot of fun making friends with our hosts. We were very well accommodated, and all in all, given the fact that this was Vietnam's very first time to host an ASPAC event, we really enjoyed our experience and the hospitality they provided during our stay,” added Cabrera.