In its first two years playing Division I baseball after winning three straight D-II state titles, Maryknoll won a total of three games in the ILH.
That includes a 1-14 mark last year in head coach Eric Kadooka‘s first year in charge of the Spartans baseball program.
Kadooka, who won seven consecutive state titles with Punahou from 2004 to ’10, has already tripled that amount of wins in his first five games this season following a 2-0 shutout of No. 7 Saint Louis on Tuesday afternoon at Goeas Field.
Right-hander Justice Yamashita fired a four-hit complete game with three strikeouts and Payton Grant broke a scoreless tie with a one-out RBI triple in the top of the seventh inning.
Grant added a second Maryknoll run scoring on a sacrifice bunt and Yamashita took care of the rest, stranding a runner on second in the bottom of the seventh to complete a masterful 98-pitch performance.
“We pushed a couple of runs across and Justice took us home,” Kadooka said. “He threw phenomenal today mixing early curveball strikes, throwing a good fastball and he didn’t give in with hitters counts.”
Maryknoll has had to grind through some tough times in recent years, but the victory over Saint Louis serves as a real stepping stone for the program.
In three games played last year, the Cruasers outscored the Spartans 17-1.
“We’re just working to get things going and realize we have a younger program,” Kadooka said. “We’ve won a few games but we try to just compete. We don’t always worry about the score. We’re trying to compete.”
They’re doing more than that. At 3-2, they are just a game behind first-place Punahou.
Grant, whose triple to right-center gave Yamashita the run support he needed to finish the shutout, said it’s the way they play that has put them in position to succeed in the always-tough ILH.
“We’re a scrappy team that is competitive,” Grant said. “Any team can’t take us lightly because we’re ready to play every game. We will keep going forward and try to keep winning more games.”
Yamashita put Maryknoll in position to beat Kamehameha 10 days ago, but the Spartans couldn’t hold a late lead and lost 5-4 in extra innings.
They are that close to sitting on top of the league through five games. On Tuesday, Yamashita took care of the decision himself.
He walked four and struck out three and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fifth.
With one out, his catcher, Tyler Quinn, caught a runner off second napping and threw behind him for the second out.
Yamashita then got a ground ball to second to end the inning.
“It was a helluva play. I’ve never had that before,” Yamashita said. “That was one of the better (starts) for me. My off-speed pitches were doing a lot better than they usually do.”
Maryknoll didn’t make all the plays in the field and struggling early hitting with runners in scoring position. But as Grant pointed out after the game, they are going to scrap for every out, which is the message Kadooka has preached from the beginning.
“These kids battle,” Kadooka said. “We played a really tough preseason — Baldwin, Waiakea, Kailua, all of the tough schools — and they’ve been tested. It’s the self-confidence we’ve worked on and playing the game right and they’re just working. We’ll keep working.”
So far, so good.