Mid-Pacific waited the entire ILH regular season before celebrating a win.
Now the Owls will wait again, this time to find out who they will play in the championship game of the ILH Division I softball playoffs.
Following an 0-12 regular season, MPI eliminated Punahou with a 4-2 win on Wednesday and rallied past No. 5 ‘Iolani 10-6 on Friday at Ala Wai Field to secure a spot in the tournament final.
Their opponent is scheduled to be determined on Monday (weather permitting) when No. 2 Kamehameha faces No. 8 Maryknoll.
Until then, the Owls have some time to savor their sudden reversal of fortune.
Amid the raindrops on Friday, MPI coach Aloha Yamaguchi exchanged personalized handshake routines with her players after a resilient performance in their second victory in three days.
“Punahou on Wednesday, ‘Iolani today, great teams,” Yamaguchi said. “But it’s our fight that we have within our team and the heart that we have from our season. We’re growing and its just a process.”
MPI catcher Lia Nakamoto was a freshman the last time the Owls qualified for the Division I state tournament and her sixth-inning grand slam on Friday moved them a step closer to an improbable return. Nakamoto is one of three seniors on a relatively young roster that includes four freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors.
A win in the final would give MPI a spot in the state tournament. If Kamehameha ends up winning the tournament, the Owls would face ‘Iolani again for the league’s second berth.
‘Iolani is also in wait-and-see mode, needing Kamehameha to win two more games to have another shot at a state berth after finishing second to the Warriors in the regular season at 8-3-1.
“We just have to stay ready and stay focused,” ‘Iolani coach Dean Yonamine said.
‘Iolani starter Marley Dyer struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings on Friday, but the Owls scored their first four runs with two outs, starting with freshman Marissa Nishihara’s two-run triple to right-center in the top of the second.
Pinch hitter Michaela Fonoti drew a bases-loaded walk in the third and Mahealani Perkins’ looper into shallow center fell in to score Nakamoto to give MPI a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth.
‘Iolani proved persistent as well in erasing MPI leads with single runs in the second and fourth innings on RBI singles by Marcee Nakamura and Ashlyn Okamoto. The Raiders jumped ahead in the fifth when Aleia Agbayani worked the count full then lined a three-run homer to center to give ‘Iolani a 6-4 lead.
The Raiders appeared poised to break it open when the next two batters reached base. But MPI third baseman McKenna Silva fielded a grounder near the bag to start a double play to end the inning.
Nishihara led off the top of the sixth with an infield second but was forced at second Caitlyn Taga was hit by a pitch and Skylar Tanaka walked to load the bases. Lea Hanawahine hit a grounder to short to score Beyli Correa from third and the throw to second was dropped keeping the bases loaded.
Nakamoto then hammered a 2-1 pitch to center to clear the bases and give MPI a stunning 9-6 lead. Hanawahine added an RBI single in the seventh and finished off a compete-game victory in the circle.
Hanawahine gave up nine hits, struck out three and walked four while throwing 124 pitches, 33 in the fifth inning alone. Her defense turned two double plays, Nakamoto threw out two runners attempting to steal and Correa, the Owls second baseman, made a diving stop for the final out.
“(Hanawahine) stayed mentally strong,” Nakamoto said. “She had a little downside but we picked her up and she kept strong.”