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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveMay 15, 2021, 4:53pm
Sat, May 15, 2021 @ [ 11:00 am ]
MIL: Hunter Faildo 1-3 rbi dbl; Anu Reis 6.0 IP 1 ER 7 KKAP: Jeremiah Lono 2-3 run rbi HR; Leo Hao 4.0 IP 0 ER
MILILANI — The red-hot Kapolei baseball team did not extend its winning streak Saturday, but it sure felt like it did.
The Hurricanes erased a two-run deficit against host Mililani with a couple of late-inning runs and came away with a 2-2 tie on the final day of the truncated spring sports season.
Both teams completed the seven-game season with identical 5-1-1 records to finish tied atop the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I West standings.
While the OIA did not officially count wins and losses, nor will it crown any league champions this spring, Kapolei coach Micah Banton wasn't shy about proclaiming his team as divisional champs.
"I'm so excited. It was huge, man. It was huge," said Banton, the second-year coach of the ‘Canes.
"We came in knowing that we had a chance to win the OIA West and when was the last time Kapolei won the OIA West? I don't think we've ever done it," he said.
Kapolei's lone loss this season came against Farrington on Apr. 28. It had won four consecutive games since then.
Banton was especially happy for his dozen seniors.
"We have an amazing group of young guys. Those 12 seniors really changed what we do there at Kapolei; they changed the program. They worked so hard, they tried so hard and our coaching staff as well, put in a lot of time, so to me, that's what it's all about: the kids put in the effort and it's so nice when they get to see the results," Banton said.
He went on, "To me, we're OIA West champs. I don't care what everybody says, or ‘it's the season that never happened,' or all that stuff, but we played every team in our division and we were undefeated (against them), so to me, we're the champs."
Shortstop Jeremiah Lono, whose towering solo homer to lead off the top of the sixth inning proved to be the game-tying run Saturday, is one of those 12 seniors. He expressed his appreciation for the now-completed short season.
"I like the fact that we still got to play. We didn't know if we were really going to have a season and it doesn't really count this season, but we still wanted it all so we came for it," said Lono, who batted 2 for 3.
Lono noted that the Farrington loss — in which, he committed three of his team's four errors in the contest — proved to be beneficial for the ‘Canes going forward.
"It just made us turn up. We just got better from there and we didn't want to lose again, so we just kept grinding and kept coming at it," said Pono, who finished the season with a team-best 10 hits and a .500 batting average.
Lono hit safely in all but one game this season and reached base in every contest. He drove in a team-high 11 runs and also tied for the team lead in runs scored with 10.
"He's a baller, he's just a stud," Banton said of Lono, who bats third in the lineup.
Lono's second home run of the season was his third extra-base hit of 2021 and his first dinger since he went yard in a win over Aiea back on Apr. 23 to open the year.
This one was a no-doubter.
Lono, the first batter of the top of the sixth, barreled up a 1-1 pitch from Trojans' ace Anu Reis that cleared a pair of shipping containers beyond the outfield fence in left center.
"That was a bomb. As soon as he hit it, I knew it was gone," Banton said. "It was out there. I'd put it close to 400 (feet)."
Lono said that the left-handed Reis threw back-to-back change-ups to start the at-bat.
"So I was like, ‘he gotta be coming fastball,' " he deduced. "So I look fastball in and it came and I just got it — got all of it. It felt pretty good off the bat."
Banton credited Lono for coming through in the situation.
"I knew he would do something special in a big spot and he did; He tied up the game for us," Banton said. "I could just tell — he gets in a zone sometimes — he's a great fastball hitter, (Reis) grooved him a fastball, belt high and he took care of business like he always does."
Lono's blast tied the score at 2-2 an inning after his team scored its first run on Aaron Yeung's two-out, RBI-double in the top of the fifth that plated Damon Tan, the courtesy runner for catcher CJ Lacamiento, who led off the frame with a walk and moved into scoring position on a Reis throwing error.
Yeung, Lono noted, is another one of the ‘Canes' seniors.
"He's one of our top guys, too," Lono said. "He may be short, but he still give action."
Reis, who is signed with the University of Hawaii, threw 90 pitches in his six innings of work. He allowed five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Kailen Kimata pitched a scoreless seventh inning in relief of Reis.
Kapolei used three pitchers, all of them seniors. Starter Leo Hao allowed a pair of unearned runs and scattered four hits over his four-inning outing. He walked one and struck out one. Jahshua Yacapin tossed two scoreless frames before Bula White closed it out in the seventh.
"They've been doing it for us all season," Banton said of the trio. "Leo is just a strike-thrower … Jahsh came in and he's been great all season … and then Bula hasn't given up a run all year … I couldn't be more proud of those three seniors."
White surrendered a lead-off single to the first batter he faced, Jaden Miranda, to start the bottom of the seventh inning. Pinch hitter Tanner Aoki then executed a sacrifice bunt to move Miranda into scoring position with one out. White then got another pinch hitter, BJ Tokushima, to strike out after a 10-pitch at-bat.
White froze Tokushima with a curveball for a called third strike and then got Kainoa Fukunaga to ground out to Lono at shortstop for the final out.
"That was great. That was great on both sides, man," Banton said. "You gotta tip your cap to the pinch hitter, that's hard to do coming off the bench like that and being in such a pressure situation, but Bula kept banging. I mean, he kept going, he kept throwing strikes, he stayed in the zone and to me, really, that's what won the game, was he got that second out. We kept that guy at second base and then that just made it much easier to get that last out."
Longtime Mililani coach Mark Hirayama was impressed with what he saw from Kapolei Saturday — and in the two years since Banton has taken over the program.
"I think Micah is doing a great job. Just from the way they come out and approach the game from their warm-ups and I think he has the program on the right track and I wish him all the best in moving forward," Hirayama said.
Both of the Trojans' runs were unearned off of Hao. Aaron Otsu reached on an Hao throwing error to lead off the bottom of the third inning and came in to score on Hunter Faildo's RBI-double. Zach Takahashi led off the fourth with a single to right field. He advanced to second on a sac bunt by Miranda and came all the way home after Hao's pick-off attempt behind Takahashi got by second baseman Cade Fujii and into center field.
"We didn't really execute as well as we should have on our side," Hirayama lamented. "We had some innings where we left some guys on base and didn't manufacture the runs like we tried to do and one, two bad pitches here or there and tied ball game, so I give credit to the Kapolei guys, they battled and it was a great game."
Mililani had won its last two games since its lone defeat: a 7-5 loss to Aiea on May 5.
The Trojans had won their last 11 meetings against the Hurricanes, whose last win in the series came on March 31, 2012.
"It was pretty big," Lono said of Saturday's tie. "We worked hard this whole season to get to this point and we got the chance to actually do what had planned, so I really like that."
Hirayama and his players took the result in stride. After all, it was just a year ago that the COVID-19 pandemic cut short their 2020 season after only two games.
"Any time you can get out and play, it's great. These guys lost a year because of COVID and so I think it just changes the perspective on things as far as what's important and how you go about the things that you're provided," Hirayama said. "Baseball and certain things, it's not a right, it's actually a privilege to be able to do some of the things that we do, it's a privilege to be able to come out and play."
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