There’s nothing Saint Louis and Punahou can do about their predicament.
Saint Louis has been atop the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10 this season. Punahou has played like it for stretches, especially during the ILH playoff tourney. But there’s this: Saint Louis has been idle for more than a week since being eliminated from the double-elimination playoffs. Punahou has been a busy bee, losing on Tuesday to Mid-Pacific. Maybe too busy.
Conversely, it’s possible the Crusaders might be a wee bit rusty after all these days without game action. And maybe the Buffanblu will be in rhythm, playing some of the best baseball in the state — MPI coach Dunn Muramaru calls them the most dangerous team in the islands.
“Saint Louis will be fresh and hungry,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said after his team’s 3-2 loss to Mid-Pacific on Tuesday. “You could argue we’re coming off a two-game skid and we’re on a downslide, but the mark of our team this year is how we’ve responded to adversity. None of them will play professional baseball, so how we bounce back is the measure of our character. We always leverage the seniors against everyone else: ‘Let’s not let this be their last game.’ ”
The state outlook seems wide open. Unlike last season, when Campbell dominated the OIA and state tourney, beating MPI in the final, there has been no clear alpha dog. Unbeaten Pearl City lost to Kailua in the OIA semifinals. The only other unbeaten Division I team is Baldwin, which has not had a lot of elite competition to date. Mid-Pacific and its senior-heavy core have emerged out of the wreckage of ILH titanic competition as the favorite.
“I’ve got mad props for Dunn and his guys. They deserve it,” Sue said. “They really are truly the most solid and consistent team in the state. To come back against ‘Iolani and get back to our game, that’s what they do. They never give up.”
Punahou (11-9) has come a long, long way since those excitable afternoons early in the season. The same team that lost two runs in a game at MPI in early March because a baserunner failed to step on home plate (during what would have been a three-run home run), the same squad that was warned by the home plate umpire twice in that game for certain comments from the dugout, plays like a much more seasoned unit now.
“There’s a little more of an authentic confidence,” Sue said. “When you’re not sure you can perform, there’s a little bit of fake it ’til you make it. This particular group has never vied for a championship before. To make to here, it’s a testament to all their hard work and growth.”
Playing Mid-Pacific six times, even absorbing four losses, has rubbed the Buffanblu the right way.
“Mid-Pacific is product of the system Dunn has created. You work hard and take care of your business, then you get to the game and you’ve been there before. The most effective way to play baseball is to not get too high or too low. It’s a slow burn,” Sue said. “It’s our second year as a staff and that’s what we’re striving for.”
Saint Louis and Punahou square off on Thursday, 6:30 p.m., on the classic stage of Hans L’Orange Park.
“That’s going to be a fun game. All we can ask for is the opportunity. We’re lucky we beat Mid-Pacific that first time (during the playoffs) because that bought us three chances. Whoever pitches, if they throw strikes and we play defense, we’re going to be tough to beat. The story of Thursday is whoever makes the least errors wins the game.”
The Buffanblu got a stellar effort from right-hander Kahi Bisho in Tuesday’s close loss.
“His best game of the year was the one he beat (MPI). Today was a close second. He did really well, but Mid-Pac’s front three, that’s a tough part of the lineup and they always bear down and have good at-bats,” Sue said of Jacob Maekawa, Alex Oley and Chase Wago. “The no-out walks hurt us. One pitch that you lose focus on can change the focus the outcome of the game. That’s the great part and the hard part about baseball.”