In the merciless world of Interscholastic League of Honolulu baseball, consistency and success are often a matter of timing.
For the ‘Iolani Raiders, making it this far, reaching the double-elimination format of the ILH playoffs, is a minor miracle. The fifth-place Raiders were 4-11 in the regular season, almost forgotten after starting the season in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for three weeks.
The Raiders seemed dormant again in a single-elimination play-in game against fourth-place (and No. 9 statewide) Kamehameha on Thursday at Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. Then, in the seventh inning, something magical happened. The Raiders strung together a slew of base hits, turned the corner for extra bases on opposite-field singles, and rallied from two runs down for a 7-4 win.
Timing was key.
>> The Warriors missed sophomore closer Lii Pontes, who had been a reliable go-to hurler during the first 11 games of the season — when Kamehameha was 8-3. His elbow pain was serious enough that Coach Tommy Perkins never considered going to the right-hander with his team clinging to a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning.
>> Francis Gora, the next reliever up, was sensational against his first two batters. His curve ball was dazzling and left both batters frozen on called third strikes. Then, with a 2-1 count on pinch-hitter Devin Ide, he fired a fastball outside. Catcher Revan Wong stepped out and went to the mound to talk with Gora.
Gora had begun the season late, joining the team after the basketball team had finished up. He spent time in the outfield, Perkins said, before suffering an injury three weeks ago. But his breaking ball was fine and his fastball had pop.
Trouble is, the Raiders like fastball pitchers. When Gora threw one more fastball instead of that sharp curve, Ide pounced on it for a two-out single that scored the first of ‘Iolani’s five runs in the top of the seventh.
Matt Campos (single), Everett Lau (intentional walk), Landen Moran (single to score two runs), Kaimana Bartolome (RBI single)… the damage came in sudden, sharp swings that turned the momentum completely to ‘Iolani.
Campos took everything Gora had to offer, down 1-2 in the count.
“Devin put just a helluva at-bat together,” coach Kurt Miyahira said. “And Campos battled.”
Moran, 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt at that point, got some advice from a teammate.
“Chad (Suga, who had struck out earlier in the seventh) told me everything’s outside. I was nervous, but I was ready,” said Moran, who is hoping to play for Puget Sound next season.
Lau was spectacular with that smooth lefty stroke, belting a single, double and triple for a 3-for-3 afternoon.
“Everybody played for each other,” said Lau, who will play at St. Martin’s University (Wash.). “And trusted each other.”
And that was that. The Warriors made some noise in the bottom of the seventh, putting two baserunners on before Ezra Heleski induced a pop-up to end the game.
“I knew if I did my part, maybe that would swing the momentum,” said Heleski, who allowed just one hit, struck out one and walked one in two scoreless innings of relief. “I just tried to pitch to contact and trust my defense. They’ve got my back.”
After a lightning-bolt, four-run fourth inning, the Warriors ran out of voltage. It was that kind of a finish for Kamehameha, which lost its final four regular-season games prior to the playoff loss to the Raiders. They took it hard, but they took it in stride. After Perkins and his staff met with the team in left field for about 15 minutes, they were in good spirits again.
It was a season of potential and promise, and with 11 returnees due back in 2017, there’s no reason to not be optimistic. Especially considering the timing of some bad breaks.
“You know, we played one of the better games we’ve had in the past two weeks,” Perkins said. “I’m happy with their performance. Our bats were livelier. But we didn’t turn the corner early enough, trying to recover after spring break.”
Timing? Perkins started jury duty more than a week earlier, causing him to miss the first few innings of games. He couldn’t beg off the task. And when will the jury duty end?
Thursday was the last day.
For ‘Iolani’s senior-heavy roster, the regular-season blues caused by a multitude of close losses are gone. They just never gave up.
“We’ve been putting some pretty good at-bats together. They’ve been working hard at practice,” said Miyahira, who guided the JV team to an ILH title two years ago. “All the seniors are at the ground level of this change of culture. This is galvanizing.”