For the 13th time in OIA history, the baseball championship belongs to the boys in blue from Kailua High School.
The Surfriders opened an early lead and hung on for a 7-5 win over Kalani on Saturday for the league title at Hans L’Orange Park, and to a man, they handled it with maturity.
“We worked so hard for this,” outfielder/pitcher Joey Cantillo said. “There was no way this game was getting away from us. Kalani is a good team with contact hitters, and a veteran team. Hats off to them. They battled to the end. I didn’t have my best stuff, but I knew my defense, my eight guys behind would support me.”
Starting pitcher Dustin Imanaka had 5 1/3 solid innings before returning to shortstop. He hit 2-for-4 and scored three runs.
“We have 12, 13 seniors and we bonded well over four years. We’re like family,” Imanaka said.
Noah Auld, a senior first baseman and three-sport standout, was clutch with two doubles early to help Kailua charge ahead.
“My approach is always to go for the single, but I caught it solid and it went to the gap,” he said.
“This shows how hard we worked,” senior Dalton Kalama said.
At Kalani, the shine of a 12-3 league season is still filled with awesomeness. Though Kailua had its way much of the night, that three-run push in the bottom of the sixth inning made things quite interesting.
Hunter Lau was at second base with one out as the Falcons had momentum in their mighty claws. But Cantillo, a 6-foot-2 fireballer, bore down. He had, possibly, his best stuff at that point. He fanned Jarryn Wee in a lefty-versus-lefty battle, then caught Reece Kakugawa staring at a third strike.
“Everything was working,” Cantillo said of his fastball, slider and curve.
Kalani got one more chance in the bottom of the seventh when Connor Zalewski reached base on an infield error. Bronson Matsumoto’s hard grounder to first was the first out.
“If that ball goes a few inches the other way, it hits the bag and everybody’s safe,” Kalani coach Shannon Hirai said.
After Cantillo fanned Payton Awaya, he got a huge hand from his defense. Kohl Suehiro, arguably one of the toughest outs in the league, sent a blooper to short center that was miraculously caught by second baseman Lawson Faria.
There just aren’t many infielders capable of making that play, going full speed almost backwards to make a parallel-to-the-ground diving catch.
“It’s a game of inches,” Hirai said.
For the Surfriders, it’s a game, but more so, it’s brotherhood. Ishigo — who has now guided them to seven OIA titles — said that the season-ending injury to talented pitcher/infielder Brendan Odo during the regular season changed his outlook.
“It’s a game, not life,” he said moments after the title win.
But for the Surfriders, unity is powerful, and that began with a love for the game. That leads to much more as they saw their sidelined teammate, Odo, cheering them on every day.
“The injury to Brendan helped us move forward,” Kalama said. “It cemented us as a team.”
“We made a lot of sacrifices,” Cantillo added. “All 20 guys did. Baseball is life, and we’re playing for our best friend.”