Tournaments | Story | 6/11/2021

Distance Proves Moot for Hawaii Elite

Matthew Welsh        
Photo: Kodie Ecks Hanawahine (Perfect Game)
ATLANTA, Ga. -- 4,407 miles, or 65,560 strips around the bases. That’s how far Hawaii Elite 2G 17u has traveled to take part in their first travel ball tournament of the summer, the Perfect Game Battle of the Southeast. 
Often lost in Hawaii’s environment of crystal-blue shores and active volcanoes, is a rich history of athleticism. Hawaii Elite is only the latest home-grown team with desires to prove their worth.
Despite the arduous travel schedule associated with traversing an entire ocean and an additional three time zones in the continental U.S., Hawaii Elite find themselves 1-0 after the first day of their summer campaign. Oh, by the way, that first win: an 8-0 run-rule victory in five innings.
“It was a long travel and a long day for us,” said Keoni Painter, Thursday Morning’s starter. “We really didn’t get a lot of sleep with the six-hour time difference and all, but we’re all ready to play and wanted to play out here, and it felt really good.”
Painter, a kind of left-handed super utility player for Hawaii Elite, delivered four scoreless innings in his team’s win, allowing only two hits, while utilizing a fastball that flirted with mid- to high-80s. As one of the four Elite players given a status on Perfect Game’s national player ranking composite, (Painter listed as a ‘high follow’ prospect), he considers himself one of the team’s leaders.
Other players on the team with a ranked status include outfielder Jaden Pieper (follow, Pacific Lutheran commit), right-handed pitcher Parker Grant (high follow) and corner infielder Jameson Hussey (follow, NAIA commit).
Notably so far from home, Hawaii Elite’s roster does not boast a particularly extensive list of names. Instead, the 16-man card relies on a brotherly bond forged only by the ‘island boys.’
“The vibes are pretty high,” said Pieper. “We had a shortened high school season, at my school, so it felt good to come out here and play some more ball. Most of the team is from Oahu, but we also have three boys from Maui out here, but we’re all local boys, so we all get along.”
Even though some of the team just met just days ago, it's clearly visible the team possesses a unique chemistry that extends beyond the Pacific and into the dugout. Elite put together back-to-back four run innings in their win, including seven hits and five walks. So far, it’s safe to say each player embraces a next-man-up mentality on the field. 
That realization could prove vital to their success when playing teams capable of fielding an extremely talented starting nine. But not lost on Pieper and his teammates, is the opportunity they now have to face off against a competitive pool that simply is not accessible to them on their island state. 
Following this weekend’s contests in Atlanta, Hawaii Elite will make subsequent trips to tournaments in Arizona and Texas, with further aims of exposing its players to as many eyes as possible. Perhaps an even bigger realization, the team now has a renewed chance to play at some of the best youth facilities in the world. And it is on nobody’s agenda to waste the moment.
“We are just super grateful, being from Hawaii and getting all this exposure and playing a lot of good teams,” Pieper said. “It’s good putting Hawaii on the map. And the fields are just awesome here. In Hawaii, we don’t really have any fields, so playing here on turf, I feel like some teams take it for granted, but it is so nice for us”
For Hawaii Elite’s uncommitted members, this summer provides ample opportunities to perform on a large stage, but for Painter, what it comes down to is each team member competing to the best of their ability.
“We’re playing ball, but at the same time, we’re trying to prove something,” Painter said. “We’re trying to get exposure and all of that because they don’t really expect us, but we just come out here and play. Honestly, for me I’m just excited to play with these guys, in these tournaments, and to gain exposure.”
Hawaii Elite’s future scheduled tournaments include the 2021 Central Elite Championship and WWBA South Championship, two events both centered in Texas. And although their final place in the Battle of the Southeast remains yet to be settled, this team, no stranger to adversity, is poised to make the most of it.
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