OIA Baseball
Aiea overcomes early-game struggles to hand Mililani first loss


Wed, May 5, 2021 @ [ 3:00 pm ]

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Aiea 0 130030771
Mililani 3 1 000015113

W: Aidan Yoshida    L: Ridge Watada    SV: Bostan Ujimori

MIL: Sage Koahou 2-3 3 rbi 2 dbl; Anu Reis 3.0 IP 2 ER 7 K
AIEA: DJ Akiyama 1-3 run 2 rbi dbl; Aidan Yoshida 2.6 IP 0 ER

MILILANI — Young, wild and free. The Aiea baseball team is a little bit of all of that.

Na Alii used three pitchers, including a pair of freshmen relievers, and rallied from an early three-run deficit to a 7-5 win over host Mililani in an Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I baseball game Wednesday afternoon.

The win was Aiea's third in a row since a season-opening loss to Kapolei and pulled it into a three-way tie atop the OIA D1 West standings with the Hurricanes — who posted a mercy-rule win over Waianae Wednesday — and the previously-unbeaten Trojans.

It also marked the team's first win over Mililani since Feb. 25, 2017.

"I guess it's good. We'll take it, we'll take any win we can, whether it's Mililani, whoever, right?," said Aiea coach Ryan Kato, whose team had lost its last five meetings against the Trojans.

"Any win we can get we're happy with so I don't think we look at what happened in the past or what's going to happen in the future — it's just now — that's the only thing that matters is what we did today and today we came out on top," he said.

Things didn't look very promising for Kato's bunch early on Wednesday.

Na Alii sent six batters to the plate and forced Mililani starter Anu Reis to throw 23 pitches in the first half-inning, but left the bases loaded and failed to score.

Then the first six Trojan batters reached base safely in the bottom of the first. They opened the scoring with a two-run double to the gap in left-center off the bat of clean-up hitter Sage Koahou, who worked an 11-pitch at-bat against Aiea starting pitcher Jordan Cezar. Another run came in on Zach Takahashi's single to left on an 0-2 pitch to score Hunter Faildo, who drew one of three walks issued by Cezar in the opening frame.

Cezar, one of three seniors for Na Alii, worked his way out of the early jam against the bottom of the lineup for Mililani, which batted around in the inning.

"We have trust in Jordan," said freshman Bostan Ujimori, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with a couple of runs scored. "Jordan knows what to do and we have trust in him, so just come back in the dugout and get some hits and score some runs."

Aiea plated its first run on Raine Yoshida's two-out RBI-single in the top of the second, but Mililani answered in the bottom half of the frame with a two-out double from Koahou to maintain its three-run lead — at least until the next half-inning.

The first four batters reached base safely for Na Alii in the top of the third. DJ Akiyama led off the inning with a walk and eventually scored on an error, Cezar was hit by a pitch by Reis and later scored on Hoku Asing's RBI-single. Aiea plated the trying run in Jonah Takeda on a Reis' wild pitch.

Na Alii took the lead for good in the sixth, when it recorded four of its seven total hits and pushed across three runs with a bit of small-ball and one extra-base knock.

Pinch hitter Reigan Komugata started the rally with his leadoff single, followed by another single from Bostan Ujimori. Yoshida then reached with a bunt single to load the bases with no outs for Ryson Ujimori, who executed a well-placed bunt on a squeeze play that allowed Komugata to come home for the go-ahead run.

Kato joked that the small-ball approach is "out of necessity.

"You've seen our team," he quipped.

Two pitches after the squeeze bunt, Akiyama laced a 1-0 offering from reliever Ridge Watada over the head of Takahashi in right field, which allowed both Bostan Ujimori and Yoshida to score and stretch the Aiea lead to 7-4.

In the bottom of the sixth, Mililani got two-out singles from Zen Staszkow and Faildo to end the outing of freshman Aidan Yoshida, who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings of three-hit ball in relief of Cezar.

"He did fantastic keeping them off-balance and he was throwing strikes, that's all we needed," Bostan Ujimori said of his classmate.

Kato took the ball from one freshman and handed it to another in Ujimori, a southpaw who started the game at first base.

While Mililani's hitters were set to see Yoshida for a second time through the lineup, the move was made with pitch counts in mind, Kato said.

"Well, because of the situation we're in and the short preparation time, I refuse to stretch pitchers out. I said it's not worth it. We're not going to be playing for a championship or anything, so their health is more of a concern to me so I'm just going to limit (their pitch counts), I mean, if we can't win with more than one pitcher, we don't deserve to win, so we're going to throw people in there because I don't want one pitcher having to throw a hundred pitches and they hurt their arm, because they didn't have the proper time to prepare," he detailed.

However, Ujimori hit the first batter he faced, Koahou, with a 1-1 pitch to load the bases.

After a brief visit from his catcher — older brother, Ryson — Bostan Ujimori got Takahashi to hit a pop-up on the infield for the third out to escape the threat.

"That was huge. For a freshman to be able to keep his composure after giving up the hit (batsman), re-compose and just come out and just fire strikes, that was huge," Kato said.

Ujimori's first pitch to Takahashi was a strike, but he missed out of the zone with his next two offerings before he induced the pop-up.

"I think I took a fastball in on him so I knew what I was doing wrong, so I just adjusted a little thing and then I threw strikes," he said, "and Ryson knows me well so he knows what to call."

The message from older brother to younger brother was clear and concise: "He just told me to calm down and throw strikes and that was all we needed. The bottom of the order was coming up so we couldn't afford to let them get to the top," Bostan added.

Mililani scored an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh to pull to within 7-5, but Ujimori retired the final two hitters to record his first career save, while Yoshida earned the win.

The pair are just a few of the freshmen contributors for Aiea this spring. Despite their youth and inexperience at the prep level, the group has impressed Kato with their progression.

"Totally. I mean, they're just so young — we have like nine or ten freshmen," Kato calculated. "They're coming straight from playing in the community league because we didn't know we were going to have a team to, ‘Hey, we're going to play, so just come,' and so it's just on-the-fly learning the game and having to fill-in in major roles. I gotta tip my cap to these guys, I'm like, ‘Hey, you guys all right.' "

While his team is riding a three-game win streak, Kato's squad never trailed in wins over Pearl City and Waianae last week. The fact that it was able to overcome Wednesday's early-game struggles was a big step in the right direction, he said.

"We went down three runs early and it would have been easy for them to pack it in and just go, ‘Ah, crud, we're going to get killed by Mililani,' but they came back and I think that's the main focus of the (postgame) meeting I had with them, is just the fact that they ‘didn't lay down and let them walk all over you, you came back and you know, you never know what can happen when you keep the game close,' " Kato said.

But Kato also called his team over for a talk during the middle of the first inning.

"I told them to have fun; they looked so tight," he disclosed. "To their credit, they pulled it together."

Bostan Ujimori said that the team's younger players have gained comfort and confidence with each repetition.

"It's good reps and we're just becoming a team. We're playing better and the intensity is up," he said. "This was a super big win for us. We started the season off with a loss that we should have won, but to come back is a great feeling. We could definitely clean a few things up, but we're playing good right now."

Kato agreed that there remains much room for improvement, but there is also a lot that he likes about the way his players are approaching the game.

"Well, it's not so much the mistakes — we still make mistakes out there — but it's moreso the mindset, the mindset of being able to compete," he said. "I think every game we play, that experience they gain, they get a little more confident, a little more confident and they're able to compete."

While the youth movement has been pleasant surprise, Kato pointed out that the senior leadership has been steady.

"We've got three seniors: DJ (Akiyama), Jordan (Cezar) and even, I would say, Ryson (Ujimori). Those three guys, we're going to go wherever they take us and I said, ‘Look, if you guys don't compete out there, the rest of the team is not going to compete, so if you're OK with just staying out there and giving up 15 runs, then we're all going to be like that, but if you guys fight, everybody is going to fight,' because that's the guys that everybody looks to."

Staszkow batted 3 for 4 and Koahou (2 for 3, two doubles) and Jaden Miranda (2 for 4, double, run) each paired hits in the loss.

Mililani, which had come from behind in each of its three wins this season, stranded 11 runners on base for the game and committed three errors.

Both teams return to action on Friday, when Mililani takes on Leilehua (1-1-1), while Aiea visits Campbell (1-3).

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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