Maeha, Ogasawara deliver in a pinch

Mililani senior Justin Ogasawara came through with a game-winning, pinch-hit single against Pearl City. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.
Mililani senior Justin Ogasawara came through with a game-winning, pinch-hit single against Pearl City. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

It wasn’t long ago when Gwen Maeha won her first state bowling championship.

Then, last fall, the Leilehua two-sport athlete captured her second bowling crown. She became only the second girls bowler in state history to go back to back, and she did it on two islands: the Kauai Bowl and Oahu’s Leeward Bowl.

On Saturday, she stepped out of the Mules dugout in a softball clash with No. 2-ranked Pearl City with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Pinch hitting at night, under the lights of Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park, televised statewide.

Not easy.

Her team trailed 3-2. Ace pitcher Tyanna “Peanut Butter” Kaaialii had Maeha at 1-1 in the count. Gianna Araki, who had led off with a walk, stood on first base.

“I just wanted to push my runner,” Maeha said. “I wasn’t nervous.”

Kaaialii’s pitch ran inside and low, just where she wanted it, she said later. Maeha met the pitch with the fat part of her bat.

“I knew it was out of here,” she said.

Maybe it’s the experience of being under pressure, all those OIA and state-tourney and club softball games, and years of bowling tournaments near and far. Maeha’s two-run home run to left gave No. 8 Leilehua the lead and a 4-3 victory.

Three days later, it was Mililani facing Pearl City on the baseball diamond. The Chargers had an 8-1 lead after the top of the sixth inning, but the Trojans erupted with five runs in the bottom half.

After scoring two more in the bottom of the seventh frame, the game was tied at 8 with runners at third and second.

Coach Mark Hirayama called on Justin Ogasawara, the senior who lost his season on the mound due to a torn labrum. Instead of disappearing, Ogasawara put his energy into work, taking thousands of swings in the batting cage. He hadn’t played on the field or hit much since his days before high school.

With 30 players on the roster, it didn’t exactly make sense for him to put in the extra effort. That didn’t matter. He kept working and Hirayama put him into the batter’s box through the OIA West season as a pinch hitter.

He stepped into the box to face Pearl City’s second hurler, Matt Aribal, a left-hander. The count was 1-2 with two outs. Ogasawara, a crafty competitor on the mound, was equally disciplined at the plate. He went the opposite way on Aribal’s pitch, sending a blooper toward short right field that was out of the reach of Pearl City second baseman Noah Domogsac.

Ogasawara, who transferred from Pac-Five as a sophomore, called it a chip shot.

“It was a pitching wedge,” Hirayama said.

Thomas Nakatsukasa scored easily from third base with the winning run, giving Mililani a 9-8 victory. Just like that, the Trojans — who had graduated all their starters last year — emerged from a condensed pile-up in the West to grab sole possession of second place at 6-5. Pearl City, which came into the game at 4-6, played well enough to win, but four errors were its undoing.

“We tell them every day, everybody is important,” Hirayama said of his young team. “It’s taken them awhile to get used to the speed at this level. Just believe in the process and trust it.”

Reps matter, but the experience of succeeding under pressure, of pushing through adversity matter, too. Maeha was cool under the heat. Ogasawara made lemonade out of lemons. Pearl City? Both the softball and baseball Chargers have been stung over the past few days, but if the pattern holds, they will emerge better and stronger. That’s a chapter yet to be penned.


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