Having the best stuff doesn’t mean teams automatically advance in the NCAA tournament.
The same goes on the mound for pitchers. Aaron Ujimori didn’t have his usual sharp curve ball, but he located his fastball and change-up with surgical precision as No. 2 ‘Iolani overwhelmed No. 7 Punahou 7-2 on Tuesday at a breezy, sunny Father Bray Athletic Complex. Ujimori allowed one earned run, struck out four and walked none for the complete-game win.
The Raiders improved to 8-0 in ILH play (18-3 overall). Punahou dropped to 6-1 in the ILH (14-2-1). The Buffanblu came into the game with a 6-1 record against Top 10 opponents, but lost to ‘Iolani for a second time. When the teams met in the Dick Kitamura final on Feb. 24, ‘Iolani clubbed Punahou 20-8.
Punahou starting pitcher Matt McConnell was often brilliant, using his wicked curve ball to strike out eight Raiders. The right-hander walked just two, but it was a mistake here and a mistake there that ‘Iolani took advantage of. Micah Yonamine and Ujimori blasted solo homers in the third inning. Punahou also had a dropped fly ball that allowed a run in, and two passed balls on third strikes kept ‘Iolani opportunities alive.
McConnell has one of the best breaking balls in the state, but he also threw two wild pitches and hit a batter (Yonamine). The potential is astounding, though.
“Coach Kurt (Miyahira of ‘Iolani) is doing a great job,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said. “We’ll look forward to playing them again.”
McConnell did something that nearly no other pitcher has done in ILH action: limit ‘Iolani to less than 10 runs. The Raiders’ scoring output in eight league games: 11, 14, 7 (Pac-Five), 12, 14, 17, 12, 7. Going back to Baldwin’s preseason tournament, ‘Iolani has won 10 games in a row.
“It’s a good win for us, but it puts an even bigger target on us now. We just have to play our game,” said Yonamine, who now has five home runs in ILH games.
Ujimori’s tater was an unexpected boost for his cause. He had lined out to right in his first plate appearance.
“After hitting the ball hard in the first at-bat, I tried to not get too anxious,” he said. “It was a curve inside.”
Punahou, which beat No. 1 Baldwin back on Feb. 7, hadn’t lost since the preseason loss to ‘Iolani.
“We need to execute at the plate better. Sometimes, we need more maturity and conviction, not to be swayed by the past or the future. We didn’t play in the present,” Sue said. “Matt did a great job. He had a couple of mistakes, but we didn’t help with plays in the outfield and passed balls.”
Punahou will meet Hanalani on Saturday at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. ‘Iolani will host Mid-Pacific on Saturday.
Punahou (14-2-1, 6-1) 001 100 0 — 2 7 1
‘Iolani (18-3, 8-0) 312 010 x — 7 9 2
Matt McConnell and Matt Nishimura. Aaron Ujimori and Micah Yonamine. W—Ujimori. L—McConnell.
Leading hitters—Punahou: Kade Morihara 3-3, HR, RBI, run; Aaron Tom 1-3, RBI, double. ‘Iolani: Yonamine 1-2, HR, 2 runs, RBI, HBP; Ujimori 1-3, HR, RBI, run; Jacob Hinderleider 1-3, run, triple; Shane Sasaki 1-3, RBI, run, double; Tate Shimao 2-3, run, SB; Blake Hiraki 1-2, double, walk.