They were two outs away.
With one out in the top of the seventh inning, the close-but-few-cigars ‘Iolani Raiders were closing in on a win over No. 3-ranked Kamehameha.
A two-run lead. Ace Trevor Ichimura spinning a masterful shutout. The formerly ranked, 3-7 Raiders on the cusp of a signature win that could get the season back on the rails in a gauntlet known as ILH baseball.
Even ‘Iolani’s polite audience seemed prepared to embrace their team’s finest showing of the season. Soft laughter, the byproduct of long-needed relief. Confidence was brimming. Sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.
What could possibly go wrong?
In the aftermath of Kamehameha’s 5-2 win in eight innings, it’s easy to see how this was a microcosm of each team’s season to date. The difference between 8-3 and 3-8 is often subtle. Kamehameha was on the brink of falling to 7-4, which certainly ain’t too shabby in the state’s most difficult league. But in a pitchers’ duel, the team that executes most and best often succeeds.
>> ‘Iolani had one sacrifice bunt attempt turn into a pop out to the pitcher. Kamehameha got a push bunt laid down expertly by Logan Salcedo that became an infield single and saved an out during that go-ahead eighth inning.
>> A wild pitch by the sophomore, Ichimura, at a bad time. He was marvelous with just two runs allowed in 7 innings, but his wild pitch in the seventh was a big part of Kamehameha’s rally. Magic for the Warriors. Semi-tragic for the Raiders.
>> Fielding. ‘Iolani’s two-base fielding error in left field during the eighth allowed an extra run to score without resistance. Instead of 3-2, the game is now 4-2 with another runner in scoring position.
Of course, there are many other factors. It’s an arms race in the ILH and Kamehameha has found a golden one in sophomore Lii Pontes, who stepped up BIG in relief again. He was there when the Warriors called his number in the midst of a comeback win over Punahou recently at Goeas Field, where the glare of a setting sun may have led to a Punahou throwing error that handed Kamehameha the game.
But there’s no discounting the depth Kamehameha has on the mound. Traditionally, teams with the most quality arms finish higher on the mountain in the ILH. And Kamehameha has at least one more consistent closer than many teams statewoide.
There’s also this: when ‘Iolani had its chance to cash in early with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the first inning, it came up empty. Starter Hunter Breault had what may be a breakthrough moment.
“That’ was the first time I regained my composure,” the tall right-hander said. “It wasn’t my best game. I left a lot of pitches up in the zone. Then Lii (Pontes) did the job.”
Coach Tommy Perkins doesn’t ascribe to some magical formula for Kamehameha’s brilliance. After a 2-2 start in league play, the Warriors have won seven of their last eight games.
“Right now, we’re going with whoever looks good. We know we’ve done this before,” he said, referring to their penchant for comeback wins. “But we’ve got to make adjustments earlier.”
Specifically, adjusting at the plate against crafty pitchers. Ichimura’s on-point fastball painted the corners, and his breaking ball was hellacious in the first six innings. But eventually, the Warriors adjusted and Ichimura may have tired. Kamehameha, as usual, finished with a flourish.
“It’s another step to getting to our main goal,” said Pontes, who hurled 2 1/3 scoreless innings. “We’ve got to stay focused and play strong.”
‘Iolani coach Kurt Miyahira is looking for some killer instinct from his team.
“Hopefully, by the (ILH) tourney, we can put some wins together,” he said. “We’ve got to take advantage of opportunities, do our job and let the next guy do his.”