ILH Baseball
Crusaders squeeze past Buffanblu for first league title since 2017


Sat, May 15, 2021 @ [ 6:30 pm ]

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Punahou 0 000100113
Saint Louis 0 1 0001X251

W: Hunter Hirayama    L: Rustin Katsura

STL: Aiva Arquette 2-3 2 runs dbl trp; Hunter Hirayama 3.0 IP 0 ER
PUN: Kaikea Harrison rbi; Rylan Burigsay 4.0 IP 1 ER

WAIPAHU — Championship clinched. Crusade complete.

Aiva Arquette doubled, tripled and scored both of his team's runs, while four pitchers combined on a one-hitter Saturday night to help Saint Louis claim its first Interscholastic League of Honolulu baseball title in four years with a 2-1 win over Punahou at Hans L'Orange Park.

The Crusaders finished the season with an 8-2 record and their first league crown since 2017.

"We talked a little bit before the game, you know, championships are hard to come by and it never gets old winning a championship, so I'm just happy for them," Saint Louis coach George Gusman said of his team, which avenged a 6-4 loss to the Buffanblu on May 4 — the final game of the regular season.

Unlike the previous meeting — in which the Crusaders trailed throughout — they never faced a deficit in Saturday's rematch.

Arquette led off the bottom of the second inning with a triple over the head of Punahou centerfielder Patrick Munley. Xander Sielken's RBI-sacrifice fly to right field allowed Arquette to tag up and score the game's first run.

The Buffanblu stranded five runners on base through the first three innings, three of them in scoring position, but got the leadoff man aboard in the top of the fourth when Jacob Ornellas reached on a fielding error by third baseman Hunter Hirayama. However, Ornellas was caught stealing by catcher Caleb Lomavita, who fired a rocket to the shortstop, Arquette, who applied the tag on Ornellas for the first out of the inning.

"That play was huge because it would have been no outs, runner on second and Punahou has some really good hitters and you never know what might happen," Arquette said.

CJ Caraang | SL    Purchase image

Gusman also noted the importance of the out, but believed that the Buffanblu may have missed a signal on the play.

"I think it was supposed to be a slash-and-run or something because the last time we played Caleb threw four of them out, so they knew," Gusman detailed. "And that's why we put Caleb back there. We knew that it would curb their running, or even a thought of running, so, you know, the first guy out and you normally will put an end to everything."

After Ornellas was erased off the base paths, Saint Louis pitcher Ray Seabury struck out the next two batters for his second scoreless inning in relief of starter Nuu Contrades, who did not allow a hit in two innings of work. Contrades walked three and struck out three, as did Seabury.

However, Seabury walked the first batter in the Punahou fifth — ninth batter, Ryne Umemoto — before he was replaced by Kahiau Schenk, who hit the only batter he worked to. Schenk threw just two pitches before he was lifted for Hirayama, who moved from third base to the mound for the final three innings.

The first batter that Hirayama worked to, Cody Kashimoto, laid down a sacrifice bunt that put Umemoto from second to third. The very next batter, Kaikea Harrison, put a bunt down the third-base line while Umemoto came in to score the tying run — which was charged to Seabury — on the squeeze play.

"That was a great squeeze play by them, so we just had to do our job and get on base and score," Arquette said.

Despite eight baserunners for the Buffanblu through the first five innings, none came by way of a base hit. Six were via walks issued by Saint Louis pitching, one was the result of a hit batsman and the other due to an error.

Punahou did not record its first hit — its only hit, in fact — until Kikaha Nakamura's humpback liner fell in short centerfield for a leadoff single in the top of the sixth. Nakamura moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Ornellas, but Hirayama got Munley to fly out to center for the second out before he got Joey Wilson to hit a ground ball back to him, which he threw over to Sielken at first base for the third out.

In the bottom of the inning, Arquette lined a one-out double to the gap in left center. Sielken then reached on an error to put runners at the corners before the Crusaders executed a squeeze play of their own.

The very first pitch to the next batter, Makamae DuPont, was bunted to the right side of the infield. It was fielded by first baseman Nolan Souza, who flipped it with his glove toward the home plate area, but catcher Justin Tsukada was unable to secure the ball before Arquette scored the go-ahead run.

"I just told him, ‘Do it for everybody here, do it for this team,' and he put it down, I made a good read and yeah, we scored, so it was a great bunt," Arquette said.

Since its loss to the Buffanblu to conclude the regular season, Saint Louis scored 12 runs on 14 hits in a quarterfinal win over Maryknoll last Saturday and 11 runs on 16 hits in a semifinal victory over Mid-Pacific Thursday.

Yet, it was small ball that decided the championship game.

"Our thing is, you don't bunt, you don't hit in the lineup, so we make sure that we bunt every single day. We make every bunt count and it proved that we worked on it every day," Hirayama said.

"Coach Gus makes us bunt every day in practice," Arquette reiterated. "It finally paid off in a big way."

Hirayama said once his team got him the lead, there was no chance he was about to give it up.

"I told the guys that I needed one run. I needed one run and I would close it out for them," he said. "I told them, game on the line, I got them."

CJ Caraang | SL    Purchase image

Hirayama followed through on his word by working a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. After a couple of fly-ball outs, he got Cody Kashimoto to hit a soft ground ball back to him that he threw over to first for the final out of the game.

"It feels great," Hirayama said of the ILH championship. "All the hard work, it pays off. I spend more time with these guys than my own family and these guys are my brothers, they're my family. I love each and every one of them and it feels great that all the hard work finally paid off."

It was Hirayama's longest outing of the season. Prior to Saturday, the senior right-hander had not thrown more than 19 pitches in an appearance, which came against Maryknoll a week earlier. He had not gone more than one inning in any game this year until the championship final.

"We were struggling with our pitching as to who we're going to start today and basically we were trying to get through one inning at time and get to the next guy and then get to the next pitcher and hopefully get to Hunter and Sielken, who are probably our most experienced guys, and we were able to do that (but) Hunter was not about to come out of the game," Gusman said.

Not only did Hirayama ask for the ball, he told Gusman that he would, in fact, finish the game, as he began his third inning of work.

"He told me, ‘I'm not coming out,' as he ran out for the seventh," Gusman said.

Hirayama, a senior and second-year varsity member, was not lacking in self-confidence.

"I wasn't afraid and I trust my defense — I believe that we have the best defense in the state — and I just like to compete. I like to compete," Hirayama said.

Arquette credited Contrades, Seabury and Hirayama for their effectiveness against a Punahou team that had won its last five games and averaged seven runs per game during that stretch.

"Everybody did a great job, starting with Nuu. He really started us off well, Ray came in there with a bang and then Hunter to close it off — that's our closing pitcher so we really count on him in situations like these," Arquette said.

Hirayama was especially cautious of issuing any free passes to the well-disciplined Buffanblu batters.

"I know that those guys are really good hitters. They have a really good eye and they hardly go fishing for balls, so they're great hitters," Hirayama said. "I know almost all of them personally and they're competitors, too, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy — it's never easy; in this league, everybody's tough."

Punahou coach Keenan Sue tipped his cap to the competition.

"They played a clean game, they executed when they needed to," Sue said of the Crusaders. "We made a couple of mishaps and they took advantage of them and other than that we played a fairly solid game, too. Our pitchers did pretty well, but both sides played good; typical pitching duel. I was really impressed by Contrades … and then Hunter did a great job closing it out. They're a solid ball club and really impressed by them, so they deserve it, for sure."

The Buffanblu were the fourth seed in the tournament and defeated fifth-seeded Iolani and top-seeded Kamehameha en route to Saturday's title game.

Saint Louis, the No. 3 seed, won six of its final seven games of the season.

"This is for our school," Gusman said. "This is for our alumni, our families that support us day in and day out and of course, for our team."

Punahou was seeking its second ILH crown in three years. It captured both the league and state championship in 2019.

After a 1-2-1 start to the spring, the Buffanblu completed the season with a record of 6-3-1.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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