WAILUKU — On one side of the diamond, Justin Fernandez couldn’t believe his fortune.
The Campbell baserunner had led off the top of the seventh with the first walk issued by Baldwin fireballer Damien Awai. After Bronson Burr struck out trying to bunt, Todd Takahama singled and opportunity’s door widened. Two wild pitches later, Fernandez was safe at home plate to give his team a 2-1 lead, and the Campbell Sabers — one of the youngest teams in the state — was in position to lock down a spot in the championship game.
Not bad for the OIA’s fifth-place team.
Awai composed himself and retired pinch hitter Nicholas Sampson and Kainoa Ganancial, stranding Takahama at third base.
It all unraveled swiftly enough. Bobby Drayer, the No. 8 hitter in Baldwin’s lineup, led off with a single to center and advanced to second base on an errant pickoff attempt by catcher Bronson Burr. Freshman Ayzek (pronounced like Isaac) Silva struck out Jacob Chong, who, like Burr in the top of the frame, bunted foul with two strikes.
Then Silva walked Haloa Dudoit, and he became the potential winning run. Burr came up with perhaps his best defensive play of the tourney, making a hustling, sliding catch on a pop-up by Chayce Akaka. Two outs. The Sabers were thisclose.
Then Nawai Ah Yen stepped into the box, had a 2-1 count. Lefty versus lefty. Ah Yen cunningly planted his feet up in the box against Silva, who throws curveballs habitually. Effectively. One of those benders clipped Ah Yen, and now the bases were loaded.
Campbell coach Rory Pico replaced Silva with senior Chad Samante. Cleanup hitter Kawena Alo-Kaonohi stepped in. 1-2 count, slow grounder to third, and it’s Fernandez fielding the ball. Short-hop throw to first. Ball escapes just long enough for both Drayer and Dudoit to score, game over. Baldwin wins 3-2.
The play was ruled by the official scorer as a hit, no error. Clearly, though, Drayer scores if Alo-Kaonohi beats the throw to first. That was probable. If Fernandez holds the ball, Dudoit stops after the turn at third.
“I was scoring no matter what as long as we hit it,” Dudoit said. “I didn’t really hold up. Once I saw the ball go down, I just kept running.”
If Fernandez holds the ball, bases are still loaded and Samante or another pitcher has a shot at the next batter, Awai, who was 1-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt. We’ll never know what would’ve happened, but the game turned quickly. One twist, and then another.
Dudoit, a stellar shortstop for the Bears, had a brief conversation during the bottom half of the seventh while he was at second base.
“I know their shortstop (Jordan Macias) really well,” Dudoit said. “He said, ‘This is crazy. No matter who wins, this is crazy.’ ”
Then it got crazier.
Now the hometown Bears will meet Pearl City, the one-time perfect team that has endured and grown. The Chargers were undefeated through the regular season, rooted at No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for weeks, before stumbling during an OIA semifinal loss to Kailua. Since then, they have been spotless.
Baldwin coach Jon Viela will guide the Bears for one last time. He has accepted the position of athletic director at Kamehameha-Maui. The Bears are unbeaten in 16 MIL and HHSAA games. It’s one more chance to give their hometown good news.
“We know Pearl City is hot,” said Dudoit, the leadoff hitter. “They’ve got pitching. They force you to make plays. They put pressure on you.”
Awai threw an economical 84 pitches in the win. The junior could pitch tonight, and says he’ll be ready if needed.
“We’ll play our game,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”