HHSAA Softball
Mules top Buffanblu for first state crown


  



Fri, May 11, 2018 @ [ 7:00 pm ]


F/6TH 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Punahou 1 01020X443
Leilehua 0 6 1412X14140

W: Kaena Nistal    L: Kennedy Ishii

LEI: Gianna Araki 1-2 2 runs 4 rbi HR; Kaena Nistal 3.6 IP 3 ER 5 K
PUN: D'Asha Saiki 1-3 run dbl


MANOA — Thirty years after its last appearance in the title game, Leilehua finally brought home the big prize.

Gianna Araki and Kaena Nistal each belted a grand slam to lead the Mules to a resounding 14-4 win over Punahou in the final game of the DataHouse/HHSAA Division I Softball State Championships before a standing-room only crowd of more than 1,200 at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium Friday night. The game was called in the bottom of the sixth inning due to the 10-run mercy rule.

The Mules, ranked third in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Power Rankings, notched their fifth consecutive win to finish the season with a record of 15-4. It is their first state crown in program history.

The Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up Buffanblu fell to 12-6.

Leilehua made three prior appearances in the state final — all of them coming in the 1980s. It lost in 1981 (4-3 to Kailua), 1987 (6-1 to Kamehameha) and 1988 (3-2 to Kailua).

"I'm super happy to bring this back to Wahiawa," said Mules first-year coach Wendell Au, a 1992 alumnus of the school.

"I told the girls, it's definitely not just a team win, not just a school win, but definitely a community win. Wahiawa really needed this so we can bring it back alive, so I'm super happy to bring this championship back to Leilehua and back to Wahiawa," Au continued.

The Mules, who finished third in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Playoffs and were unseeded in states, won their fourth game in as many days. They averaged 12.3 runs and scored double-digit runs in each of their four state tournament games.

Gianna Araki (right) belted the first of the Mules' two grand slams, swatting a 1-2 offering to right field in the bottom of the second inning. Michael Lasquero | SL    Purchase image

Nine different players recorded at least one hit Friday.

"To tell you the truth, this whole state (tournament) was a team win. I mean, I did a lot of subs — if you look take a look at my lineup I have so much red ink on it — and it's like gut feeling and I just take a look at their faces and see what type of mood they're in and to the team, I mean, from day one I said, ‘next man up,' and they lived up to it," Au said.

Despite the lopsided final score, the Mules actually faced their first deficit of the state tournament early on.

Punahou jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead after Bailey Akimseu's two-out RBI-single scored Kennedy Ishii.

"No biggie," Araki said. "We always tell our pitchers, ‘we get back in the circle' and they always say, ‘Oh, it's nothing. We got the next one. My fault, my fault. Right here, we got this next one right here.' It's always, ‘don't worry about this one, we'll get the next one.' It's always thinking positive, always thinking ahead. We don't want to think negative, otherwise it's always going to bring our momentum down."

In the bottom of the second, the Mules batted around and scored six runs on five hits. Mikayla Pinera and Brandi Leong had back-to-back RBI-singles and two batters later, the right-hand hitting Araki swatted a 1-2 offering from Ishii to the opposite field and over the fence for a grand slam.

"I saw inside — on the white, inside though — because I've been expecting insides throughout this whole tournament and I was like, ‘Okay, if you see it on the white, go for it; base hit scores two,' and I saw it, it was on the white, I swang for it and next thing you know, it went over," Araki said of her team-leading seventh home run this season.

The teams exchanged single runs in the third inning before the Mules broke open the flood gates in the bottom of the fourth.

Leong and Kayla Hale reached on consecutive singles and Araki drew a walk to load the bases for Nistal. The first pitch to Nistal was a ball, then she was fooled on a change-up for strike one. However, she turned on the next pitch from Ishii and rocketed a low liner over the lefr field fence for a grand slam to stretch her team's lead to 11-2.

"I didn't think it was going to go over and I didn't even know there was full bases," said Nistal, who was selected as the tournament's Most Oustanding Player.

Nistal, who began the game as the designated player, was pressed into pitching duty to start the second inning after starter Kamryn Kamakaiwi left the game due to an apparent leg injury sustained during a rundown in the top of the first.

"It was hard because I was thinking about how she was, but I knew that I had to help her out and help the team out because we had to pick her up," said Nistal, who allowed three runs on two hits with eight walks and five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of relief.

"We always say not to think of yourselves because that's how a championship team is, and we all think about each other and we all back up each other and that's just how we were taught to do," said Nistal, who improved to 4-1 on the year.

Alyssa Abe got the five outs to close out the game.

"My mindset was I was going to utilize all of them; it's states (and) there's nothing left. You go home after you lose. I mean, yeah you get to play (consolation) games, but you're done chasing that championship, so I was going to utilize as much I could all three pitchers," Au said.

Au stressed a team-first mentality throughout the season, especially during the state tournament. 

Araki agreed, saying it took all three hurlers to get the Mules over the proverbial hump this year. 

"I know that we had our two seniors (Kamakaiwi and Nistal) and our one junior (Abe) and I had faith in all three of them," Araki said. "I knew that if one went down we'd have another who's just as strong and if she had to go down we still had another pitcher just as strong. I had faith in every single one of them, no doubts, absolutely not. We're a team. We're a strong team and I have faith in every single one of our players."

Punahou plated a pair of runs on RBI bases-loaded walks by Maya Matsubara and Ishii to cut the Leilehua lead to 11-4. However, Kayla Hale's RBI-single to score Pinera made it an eight-run lead after five innings and Pinera's two-out single in the sixth induced the mercy rule and brought the game to an end.

"We left (eleven) girls on base through the first five innings," Buffanblu first-year coach Boy Eldredge lamented. "(If) we get a couple good, big hits with full base here and there, then the game's different. We didn't get those hits and when (Leilehua) got full base, they hit two out of the park and so I think that was the whole difference in the game."

Ishii batted 2 for 3 with a walk, RBI and a run scored. Eri Mizuguchi drew three walks in the loss.

Ishii was the losing pitcher after surrending 11 runs — 10 of them earned — on 10 hits with two walks and a strikeout in three-plus innings of work. Akimseu tossed the final two innings and gave up three runs on four hits with four walks.

"Punahou fought well. They didn't hang their heads and I thought that was great because some teams don't have the strength to keep pushing forward, (but) they held their heads high and they didn't give up, they didn't back down, they kept producing all the way — which I thought was great — because every team needs to be like that; everybody needs to be strong-minded and able to push through all the way to the end," Araki said.

Hale went 2 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored, Pinera was 2 for 3 with a walk, three RBI and two runs scored and Leong went 2 for 3 with a walk, RBI and two runs scored.

"Honestly, it's indescribable because it's been over ten years since we've made it this far and being able to take it home to our community — which is so proud of us right now — and to just give back and to give Wahiawa a good name is the most amazing feeling in the world," Araki said.

The Mules won nine of their final 10 games. Their lone loss during that stretch came in the semifinals of the OIA tournament.

"It's everything I wanted it to be. I mean, you always shoot high to reach something and hopefully it is there, but for it to happen — it didn't really hit me yet — (but) I'm sure as soon as I go home, it's gonna hit me," said Au, whose team won three of its four state tournament games by mercy rule.

"For my first year I wanted to bring back something and the OIA title was the first thing that I could shoot after and we fell short and then I kind of did some pondering — and pretty much sulking — and then I realized that people don't win the OIA when they end up winning the states, so we refocused and the team peaked at the right time."

Punahou was seeking its second state title. It won its only championship in 2013.

"I love these girls," Eldredge said. "These girls bought in. They worked hard and had really good attitudes. It was a pleasure to be a part of this and experience this just because of the kind of team that we had."

-----

DataHouse/HHSAA Division I Softball All-Tournament Team
as selected by the media and HHSAA

  C - Hailey-Alexis Yamaguchi, Pearl City
 IF - Bailey Akimseu, Punahou
 IF - D'Asha Saiki, Punahou
 IF - Gianna Araki, Leilehua
 IF - Brandi Leong, Leilehua
OF - Alyssa Asuncion, Leilehua
OF - Eri Mizuguchi, Punahou
OF - Kawai Mielke, Punahou
OF - Nohea Hee, Maryknoll
  P - Kennedy Ishii, Punahou

Most Outstanding Player: Kaena Nistal, Leilehua



Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].


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