The game changed in an instant for Punahou.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Buffanblu managed to tie Saint Louis without a single base hit. Ryne Umemoto led off with a walk, Justin Tsukada was hit by a pitch and Cody Kashimoto pushed the runners over with a sacrifice bunt. Kaikea Harrison then delivered the ultimate bang-bang moment with a suicide squeeze. Umemoto slid home safely with Punahou’s first run of the game.
Saint Louis’ lineup was prepared to be equally resourceful. In the bottom of the sixth frame, Aiva Arquette doubled with one out and advanced to third base on Xander Sielken’s infield single. A perfect scenario for Crusaders coach George Gusman.
The No. 6 hitter, Makamae DuPont, sent a safety squeeze bunt up the first-base line. Arquette came screaming down the line from third, his 6-foot-4 frame slipping past Punahou catcher Tsukada for the go-ahead run.
Punahou came up empty in the top of the seventh. ILH title, Saint Louis.
Gusman put his full trust in a batter who is known more for line drives than bunts.
“Actually, Makamae had a bunt in his previous at-bat and he couldn’t lay it down, and the runner blew a signal, but those things happen. They don’t intend to do it. They’re just trying really hard, trying to make things happen,” Gusman said. “Do I trust him? Absolutely.”
Arquette chuckled when DuPont called himself a good bunter.
“He did it when it counted,” Nu‘u Contrades said.
Saint Louis gets daily bunting reps in.
“Five to 10,” Contrades added.
“I never did bunt before in a game,” DuPont said.
The game was quick with few walks, few delays. Time elapsed: 1 hour, 54 minutes.
There was time later to reminisce over the shortest of baseball seasons. ILH teams were fortunate to have a half-season and a championship playoff tournament.
“The bonding. The brotherhood. Every day we work so hard. We’re just enjoying this moment now,” said Arquette a junior.
DuPont and Contrades are also juniors. Seniors Hunter Hirayama and Caleb Lomavita soaked in the post-game ambiance. Hirayama pitched the last three innings for the win.
“We’re hyped after win because we know how tough the ILH. You can get beat on any given day, but this feels a lot sweeter because we lost to them, they beat us the first time,” Hirayama said. “I have a lot of good friends (at Punahou) and they’re all very talented players. It’s a lot of respect to them.”
Lomavita called the pitches as Saint Louis used four pitchers for a 1-hitter.
“It was just like the Mid-Pac game. We knew it was going to be a battle. A championship game is a championship game. It’s going to be a tough one, no matter how you play,” Lomavita said. “I kind of found tendencies that the batters had, so I was working my way around that, tried to be ahead of the game.”
Hirayama and Contrades, who started at pitcher and went two innings, often change the angles of their arms to create variation on their breaking balls. At the plate, Lomavita also had command as a hitter. He homered twice and went all seven innings in Saint Louis’ 11-6 semifinal win over Mid-Pacific on Wednesday. The reward with Friday’s win is more internal than external.
“I’ve seen Keith Torres them win states on this field. When Kai boy hit that go-ahead home run against Kamehameha, I wanted to feel that feeling, and I got that today. It came full circle and it feels so good,” the Cal signee said.
Lomavita wasn’t entirely sure he would catch in the final.
“I didn’t know I was catching until about 30 minutes before the game, but I’m always ready for anything. Coach Gus always his bag of tricks and he has a reason for everything. Punahou is a good running team, so I didn’t see a reason why I wouldn’t (catch),” he said.
Lomavita threw out one baserunner, as did Punahou’s catcher, Tsukada. Punahou could have tested him more, but they couldn’t get on base enough. The senior simply had the proper finish to an illustrious career at Saint Louis.
“I’m gonna miss that kid,” Gusman said.
“I just thank Coach Gus,” Lomavita said. “Before the season started last year, I said, Coach, you gotta make me a promise. Before I leave this school, I need a championship. He got me that today and it feels so good. Feels so good.”
A bunt here. A bunt there. A hard ground ball that a pitcher, Hirayama, scrambles for, making a rifle throw to end the sixth inning. That prevented a ripe situation — it would have been runners at the corners — for Punahou.
“Sometimes, it’s a game of inches,” Gusman said. “The ball got back to Hunter. He fights it and fights it, able to throw the runner (Cody Oshiro) out. Sometimes in close games, it’s a close play here, a play not made there. We just made one more play and that’s all we needed.”
(See the game story in Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)
At Hans L’Orange Park
Punahou (5-3-1) 000 010 0 — 1 1 2
Saint Louis (8-2) 010 001 0 — 2 6 1
Rylan Burigsay, Rustin Katsura (5) and Justin Tsukada. Nu‘u Contrades, Ray Seabury (3), Kahiau Schenk (5), Hunter Hirayama (5) and Caleb Lomavita. W—Hirayama. L—Katsura.
Leading hitters—Punahou: Kikaha Nakamura 1-3. Saint Louis: Aiva Arquette 2-3, 2 runs, double, triple; Xander Sielken 1-2, RBI; Makamae DuPont 1-2, RBI.