Battle of friends goes Punahou’s way for ILH title

Punahou pitcher Landon Carter helped the Buffanblu win the ILH championship. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

The battle of frenemies was epic for Punahou and Kamehameha.

Punahou relied on aces Matt McConnell and Landon Carter to capture the ILH baseball championship on Wednesday, outlasting Kamehameha 2-0 at Hans L’Orange Park. McConnell and his counterpart, Christian DeJesus, put on a remarkable pitchers’ duel through nearly six innings.

The two starting pitchers are friends off the field.

“I saw them at the ‘Iolani Fair,” Kamehameha coach Daryl Kitagawa said. “Hat’s off to Matt and Landon.”

McConnell, a right-hander, was consistent with his fastball, curve and slider.

“Christian and I are friends so it was fun pitching against him. I tried to stay focused on going right at them, not trying too hard to make the perfect pitch,” he said. “We prepared for this moment since the start of fall workouts. That’s what all the hills are for, all the work is for.”

After a long, exhausting ILH regular season and double-elimination tournament, it was Kamehameha (16-10 overall) that emerged as the hottest team in the league. Kitagawa’s propensity for playing — and pitching — as many Warriors as possible throughout the season was a big plus.

“I really believe in that. They all work hard at practice. It’s fun to see the guys compete and get a chance to play,” the first-year head coach said. “I’m super proud of them. They battled back from 6-5. That 15-inning game (and win) against Mid-Pacific was the turning point.”

DeJesus was a key part of Kamehameha’s ascent. He pitched well enough to win most games in the ILH final, allowing just one earned run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked none.

McConnell also went 5 1/3 innings, allowing no hits with four K’s and three walks. Carter stepped in with two runners on base and doused the fire in the top of the sixth, and then got through the seventh for the save in his first relief appearance of the season.

Carter hadn’t pitched since the loss to Kamehameha. Coming out of the ‘pen was a bit different.

“I got up and got loose,” he said. “A lot of adrenaline helps a lot. I got a feel for my pitches. My curveball was really on. I felt like I had good control of it today. Our coach (Blaine Muraoka) called the pitches.”

The gauntlet of ILH sports, including baseball, was for the best.

“We had a rough last week, but we only got stronger and better because of it. It makes today feel so much better,” Carter said.

Punahou was the only team to beat Baldwin all season, even if it was a preseason game on Maui.

“It was a good experience, knowing the venue, but it’s going to be a whole new challenge,” Carter said.

Yet, without the contribution of Kirk Terada-Herzer, it’s a different game. The senior had been in and out of the starting lineup recently, but got his chance on Wednesday. With two outs and a runner on second, he went after an 0-1 pitch by DeJesus.

“The first pitch was a change-up. The second one was a fastball, middle out,” he said.

He lined the pitch up the middle, scoring Makana Murashige from second base to give Punahou a 1-0 lead.

“I was looking for a fastball, something I could drive. I got that on the 0-1 count,” he said. “These past couple of games, I was struggling a little bit. It feels good to have everything come together and come through. There’s nothing to lose, really, just do your best and it’ll work out.”


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