Battery tested: Maryknoll ace Ua Nakoa-Chung and catcher Lilliana Thomas in sync

Catcher Liliana Thomas couldn't contain her excitement after pitcher Ua Nakoa-Chung struck out the side in the top of the first inning. Maryknoll went on to blank ‘Iolani, 12-0, but the game was later ruled a forfeit loss by Maryknoll. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 14, 2021).

Trust is a valuable commodity.

Its partner is action, and the two together create something unbeatable. When Liliana Thomas calls a pitch, the Arizona State-bound catcher puts all her knowledge and instinct on the line. The greatest beneficiary is ace Ua Nakoa-Chung, who put together her best performance of the young season on Wednesday.

Maryknoll’s 12-0, TKO win over ‘Iolani in five innings wasn’t a surprise offensively, but Nakoa-Chung was sterling with nine strikeouts in her one-hitter. She walked just two batters.

“My curves and my screws were working. And my risers. I threw in a couple of change-ups. Everything else was so and so,” she said. “This is my first full season in the ILH. I’m getting to my peak point, for sure.”

Nakoa-Chung’s performance did not surprise Thomas, who did her team plenty of good by launching a three-run home run in the first inning.

“Ua hits her spots really well, so when she hits her spots I’m really able to (call) any pitch. She’s fast, so it’s hard for people to catch up,” Thomas said. “The go-to would probably be the rise ball. She did really good. She’s able to hit her spots to get most of these girls out.”

Ua Nakoa-Chung fired a five-inning one-hitter, fanning nine ‘Iolani batters in Maryknoll’s 12-0 win. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 14, 2021).

Maryknoll coach John Uekawa enjoys seeing the success of his pitcher and catcher.

“Funny how pitchers are, you know? Some days they’re on, some days they’re off. They could be extremely good. Today, she was comfortable, settled. You can tell, she’s very quiet and calm. But you’ve got to give Lil a lot of credit because of the fact that she calls the pitches now. She takes command of the whole infield so you’ve got to give her a lot of credit on that,” he said.

Thomas’ influence goes beyond the diamond.

“She’s great. She’s an awesome person. She is a leader. She takes responsibility of everything,” Nakoa-Chung said. “I like how she is on and off the field. She’s definitely a captain. She’s just an overall great player.”

Liliana Thomas is hitting for average and power, and has complete command behind the plate for the Maryknoll Spartans. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 14, 2021).

Thomas’ skills are elite. On an outside breaking pitch, she reached out with her glove (left) hand, swiveled slightly while on her knees, and threw out an ‘Iolani baserunner with a pinpoint throw to second base. It looked so easy. She has her pitcher’s back in so many ways.

“Sometimes when you really look at it, it boils down to a play,” Uekawa said. “When you can either gain momentum or lose momentum. That particular one stopped their momentum. It was a tough play and Carys (Murakami) made a good play at second base.

The Spartans’ 4-0 start sets the stage for a Saturday showdown with Kamehameha. The two unbeatens square off at 10 a.m. at Sand Island Recreation Area.

“I think if we don’t let up the gas pedal, keep grinding, keep playing how we’re playing, stay humble. As long as we keep it going, we’ll be fine,” Thomas said. “Our mentality going into the game is just play for each other. We’re all doing great. I’m really excited with the team we have now.”

Freshman Jenna Sniffen came up big again for the Maryknoll Spartans, socking a three-run home run. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 14, 2021).

Uekawa is excited, though he is trying to keep perspective.

“This is going to be the game of the month, Kamehameha and us. Kamehameha is very good. They’re very well coached. I really believe that they are raring for us, preparing for us. I, on the other hand, think about it the opposite way. It’s just another game. We just play the best we can,” he said. “We always say that we have a big target on our back and everybody’s chasing after us. The bottom line is we just have to play, like anyone else. We’re humans.”

On a sunny, breezy afternoon at Sand Island, the Spartans got home runs from Thomas, Aloha Akaka and freshman Jenna Sniffen against two ‘Iolani pitchers.

Nakoa-Chung struck out the side in the first inning and had five Ks after two frames. Ailana Agbayani’s single in the first was the lone base hit for the Raiders, who are still without three starters who played in an elite tournament in Las Vegas recently. They are in quarantine from school and extracurricular activities per school restrictions.

Agbayani, who stole second base after her single, was the only Raider to get in scoring position.

The home team scored three runs in the opening inning on a three-run home run by Thomas. Carys Murakami led off with the first of her three bases on balls, and Mahalo Akaka reached base on an infield error. With one out, Thomas launched her homer over the center field fence for a 3-0 lead.

The Spartans continued to attack, loading the bases after Sniffen walked, Nakoa-Chung singled and Daylee Williams was hit by a pitch. ‘Iolani starting pitcher Carly Izuo avoided further damage by getting Aloha Akaka to fly out to center.

‘Iolani stayed within three runs until the fourth inning, when Maryknoll plated three runs. Williams led off the fourth with a single to center before Aloha Akaka socked a home run to center, opening the lead to 5-0. Just one pitch earlier, Akaka thought she had drawn a fourth ball for a walk.

Murakami then walked against ‘Iolani’s next pitcher, Kiara Baba. Murakami stole second base, and with two outs, Thomas walked. Sniffen then doubled to the left-field corner, scoring Murakami for a six-run Spartans lead.

Maryknoll put the game in mercy-rule territory by scoring six more times in the bottom of the fifth inning. Logan Gaspar led off with a single, Williams was hit by pitch for a second time and Akaka singled to left, scoring Gaspar from second base. A fielding error in left field allowed Williams to continue on to home plate while Akaka reached third base.

Murakami followed with a double to left, scoring Akaka for a 9-0 lead. After pinch hitter Haylee Cathcart reached base on an infield single, Thomas grounded into a forceout at second. Sniffen then belted a three-run shot to center, ending the game.

At Sand Island
‘Iolani (1-3) 000 000 — 0 1 1
Maryknoll (4-0) 300 306 — 12 10 0
Two outs in sixth inning when game called due to 10-run rule.
Carly Izuo, Kiara Baba (5) and Keely Kai. Ua Nakoa-Chung and Liliana Thomas. W—Nakoa-Chung.
Leading hitters—‘Iolani: Ailana Agbayani 1-2, SB. Maryknoll: Carys Murakami 1-1, double, RBI, 3 runs, 3 walks; Liliana Thomas 1-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs, walk; Jenna Sniffen 2-3, HR, double, 4 RBIs; Daylee Williams 1-1, 2 runs, 2 HBP; Aloha Akaka 2-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs.


Nakoa-Chung’s strikeouts


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