There was a real baseball game played at Les Murakami Stadium on Saturday.
Not that other games played aren’t real, mind you, but this one had intense drama, the kind of drama that you would have to be an unfeeling robot not to get wrapped up in.
Little kids on the right were screaming for Mid-Pacific. Little kids on the left were screaming for Campbell.
Adults were on the edge of their seats.
Can I get some popcorn, please? You can spend money on the Avengers, and nothing against that theatrical franchise, but your money would have been just as well spent, or more, had you decided to take a seat at the Les.
The electricity was palpable.
Left-hander Dorrien Villanueva-Hermosura, Campbell’s No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, was one strike away from giving the Sabers their first state championship since 1978. It was the top of the seventh and Campbell was up 2-1. Mid-Pacific’s Tyler Yamaguchi was at the plate and he slapped a 3-2 pitch to third base and sprinted for his life (yes, that’s what it seemed like) for first base. If the throw from Zachary Kapihe gets there first, it’s Game Over.
Asked after the game if he’s ever run faster, Yamaguchi did not give the media the quote it was looking for, saying, “I don’t know.”
Well, suffice it to say, he was running like the wind, which, in case you didn’t notice, was blowing from left to right, as usual, at Hawaii’s baseball mecca named after Hawaii’s quintessential coach.
And … bam … Yamaguchi beat the throw, and teammate Alexander Oley, the starting pitcher now playing center field, was running on the pitch and scored from second base for a 2-all tie.
Drama, baby. Half the crowed shouted “Oh!!!!” and half chirped “No!!!!.”
Oley, by the way, started the rally with a one-out single and advanced on a balk. Balks, that oddity of baseball. Well, we’ll just say the umpires made the correct call on that one, even if we don’t really know. Why?
OK, let’s start a new paragraph for this one. The umpires were awesome. How often does that get written? Not much or never. You choose. Why awesome? Every single close play, and there were many, they got absolutely correct, with TV to back it up.
Not an easy thing to do, you know. Go ahead. Try umpiring.
Where were we? Yeah, score tied 2-2.
The Sabers … the team with the deep, deep pitching staff led by Ian Kahaloa, a major league prospect … send six batters to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Somehow, they don’t score and leave three runners on base.
Mid-Pacific forms a huddle. They are pumped to still be in it. The Owls captured the momentum, perhaps.
The coach — Mr. Dunn Muramaru, the small-ball master — has been here before. He knows what to do. Right? He is going for a sixth state title.
But the middle of the MPI order fails to get a hit in the top of the eighth. It’s 1-2-3 against Campbell reliever Keola Himan, who came in from right field in place of Villanueva-Hermosura to start the inning.
We’re going to the bottom of the eighth, folks.
And here to do play-by-play is Vin Scully, not! But bear with it:
“Blayze Arcano-Llacuna steps in. The left fielder. He’s 2-for-3 so far. Singled in the second and fourth. Struck out in the sixth. He hits a bounder to third base … and gets there in time.”
A bit later, Arcano-Llacuna takes off for second, but is gunned down by Owls catcher Noah Shackles. Umm, as catchers go, this kid is a stud.
Back to Scully for the next series of plays.
“Kapihe lines a single to left.”
“Mid-Pacific reliever Jacob Maekawa tries to pick him off. Oh, and the throw goes into right field. It’s going to be trouble. Kapihe goes all the way to third.”
Muramaru does the sensible thing and has Maekawa intentionally walk Himan, who a little bit later steals second to put runners on second and third.
Hmmm, decision time for Muramaru. Walk the next batter to load the bases for a force out?
No. He decides to have Maekawa pitch to pinch hitter Kainoa Ganancial, who hits a ball to Yamaguchi, the smooth fielding shortstop. Yamaguchi guns home to nab Kapihe (the potential WINNING run) for the second out and Himan goes to third. With Tryzen Patricio, the catcher and spiritual leader of the Sabers, at the plate, Ganancial steals second to put runners on second and third again.
Patricio, who everyone on Campbell’s roster (just about) calls “the man,” becomes the man of the hour.
Patricio, he’s the one who is there to take the 100-mph fastballs from Kahaloa (who is likely to be drafted high by an MLB team in June), and he is the one who has been calling out the signals for the staff all season and is the one who knows what is working and what is not.
Patricio, he’s the one who could barely throw the ball back to the plate in a regular-season game against Mililani. He’s so tough that he didn’t tell the coaches that he had injured his shoulder. The coaches finally figured it out and took him out, and that spelled doom for the Sabers when Arcano-Llacuna, who was thrusted into the backup catcher role, tried to pick off a runner at third base and threw it into left field, leading to Campbell’s defeat in extra innings at Mililani’s home field.
But it was not Mililani’s year. The Trojans had great pitching, but they didn’t have Kahaloa. Campbell was not lights out at the plate, 1 through 9, but neither was Mililani. Rather, both teams played great, fundamental baseball. And so did Mid-Pacific, for that matter.
Back to the would-be Scully: “Patricio at the plate. A righty. The heart and soul of this team. A senior. A local with a big smile and a heady explanation of what is going on with his team. He epitomizes what Campbell and coach Rory Pico are all about.”
Aside to the readers: this whole article is a bit of an archeology dig. The notes are there, but are difficult to read. There isn’t much about Patricio’s at-bat other than the sheer memory of it all.
The memory, however, is still quite bright. A distinct picture. White uniform, orange and black trim. Righty. No. 16. Big kid. Fastball outside. Afterward, Patricio said, he had been given an inside fastball earlier in the at-bat and was expecting a fastball “in a different location.” Man, was he thinking, or what?
This is Campbell, the best in the OIA, vs. Mid-Pacific, the best in the ILH.
It’s Muramaru vs. Pico. Yeah, find a better coach in Hawaii than these two. Go ahead. Doubtful.
These kids are prepared! All of Hawaii should be very proud of the performance of both teams.
And, somehow, when the season started, the average Joe, including many in the media, was thinking, well, if Campbell makes it to the final, then Ian Kahaloa has to be the man to get it done at the end.
And wouldn’t you know? The kid who killed a cat with a rock as a 3-year-old isn’t needed on the mound for the final inning. Kahaloa does, however, go 10 (count them, 10) full innings to tough out a victory over Kamehameha in the semifinals the night before.
Oh, and after that masterpiece that included 15 (count them, 15) strikeouts, Kahaloa could have just said, “Oh well, I’ve done what I can” and checked out.
But no, when it was all said and done and Campbell became the state champion (spoiler alert), Kahaloa said:
“This means THE WORLD to me.”
Yup, he is going places and THIS meant the world. He wasn’t ABOVE it. He was right in the middle of it and he came through. You try pitching 10 innings.
OK, so the game is not over yet and Patricio is at the plate.
What would Scully say?
“He connects with Maekawa’s pitch and sends an outside fastball into right field. Patricio is running as fast as he can to first base. Himan crosses the plate!! Sean Kinel, the MPI right fielder, does not attempt a throw to first. First baseman Ryne Yamashro walks away from the bag. Patricio is safe. Campbell is the new Hawaii champion. The Sabers win 3-2.”
And so Pico, the former UH infielder who took over the Campbell squad from Lane Watanauki in 2004, puts the finishing touches on a piece-by-piece state championship. In Pico’s first game as the Sabers coach 11 years earlier, it was evident that he had his boys ready. As soon as he took over, they played baseball the way it was supposed to be played. Much like Watanuki, a mentor, had them doing.
An aside on Pico: He’s a good guy, but he doesn’t let that be known fully to his players. He is hard on them, with love, so to speak. But he is not one of the boys. He wants them to know that they need to listen to authority. A special relationship, in its own way.
Himan, by the way, was the goat, so to speak, one year earlier in the state tournament. He made an error in the outfield that led to Saint Louis’ semifinal win and ultimate championship.
Oh, Himan was pumped up after the 3-2 state title win on Saturday. He had made a promise to his teammates that he would make up for it this year. That is superbly rich. He said the whole team, especially the seniors, made a promise to stick together.
You see, if you play together, you get places. If you play as an individual, you get individual honors. If you get on base, your teammate is charged with driving you in. It’s the way it is. Stop with all the individuality, already.
Teammates called Patricio “the man,” way before he punched the winning hit into right field. The game-winner just solidified their reasoning for calling him that.
You know, if he was thrown out at first from right field, Mid-Pacific may have had the upper hand going into the ninth.
But go ahead, watch as many replays as you want and see what you see. Here’s what appeared to happen from a vantage point behind home plate: Oh yes, it appeared that right fielder Sean Kinel could have thrown him out.
That is just an active imagination, perhaps. But the video, if it is ever produced, might show it clearly.
Coach Muramaru, Kinel and Patricio himself all stated that they thought the hit was too deep for a throw to be made to first base to get Patricio out.
Missed opportunity for MPI? You be the judge if you get ahold of video proof.
Muramaru, while his players were walking up to the first-base line to get their runner-up awards, sat stoically at the edge of the dugout. Not frowning. Not smiling.
A blown chance? It happens to the best of high school coaches, and major league managers, for that matter.
Dunn was humble. Would you expect anything else?
Pico, after the game, was doused with Gatorade, but his message was crystal clear: “This is the one we wanted.”
Yes, that’s something a coach would say after two straight trips to the semifinals followed by the big trophy. But, with a major league prospect at the top of your rotation, this “was” the time and the Sabers needed to capitalize now.
Next year, Campbell will be competitive. They will field ground balls. They will throw strikes. They will hit. They will not have Kahaloa or Patricio. They will not have Himan or Dewayne Sprinkel.
Who? We haven’t mentioned Sprinkel yet. OK, earlier in the year, this speedy center fielder was safe on three bunt hits in one game. Enough said, right?
But in this biggest of games, he hit a bomb. No, really. He hit a bomb.
Sprinkel, the lefty leadoff hitter extraordinaire, absolutely smashed the ball over the right-field fence 350 feet away for a two-run homer in the fifth inning for Campbell’s 2-1 lead.
That could have been it.
But, a ha!!!! As you’ve seen, the war was not settled yet.
Mid-Pacific came back, and then the boys from Ewa Beach did not budge.
They were tight. They had Patricio, Kahaloa, Himan, and more. They had Mr. Baseball, yes Mr. Baseball … Pico — the coach. Go ahead, tell us why Pico is not Hawaii’s Mr. Baseball.
And, there is another Mr. Baseball, Dunn Muramaru. He’ll be back. He was quiet in his assessment. He knows his team made mistakes. That’s part of the reason he was sitting at the edge of the dugout. No, wait, that’s probably where he would have been, no matter what. The game was over. Even if the Owls had won, he wouldn’t be rah-rah-rah. He would probably have been smiling a little bit more. That’s all.
Let’s put it this way, Dunn Muramaru knows that two runs probably is not going to win a state championship. He knows mistakes were made, leading to defeat. He was not happy. But, sometimes, it appears anyway, he is not that happy with a win.
He’s just a baseball lifer. He was not upset. But, let’s get back to reality. He watched his team NOT GET THE JOB DONE.
Certainly close, but does it matter? Dunn knows better. They could have won.
“Not bad, second in the state,” he said.
Yeah, right. He was really thinking, “We could have done this.”
But they didn’t. That’s baseball.
Kahaloa, who scouts have been watching all season and last summer in Arizona camps, has committed to the University of Hawaii. But when the draft comes around in mid-June, he may just opt for the pros.
He got to rest his arm on the final night of the state tournament. He threw close to 140 pitches the night before. Without his heroic effort, Campbell would not be in the final.
And it prompted probably the most subdued, yet eloquent quote of all, from Kahaloa:
“I guess it’s our year.”