What can be said about two teams that have played seven times since the regular season began?
This is deja vu all over again for the Damien Monarchs and St. Francis Saints, who went through this last year.
>> St. Francis wins the regular season in ILH Division II.
>> Damien wins the league tournament.
>> With St. Francis needing just one victory in the title series — Damien needed two as the tournament winner — the Saints saw their shot at a state-tourney berth slip away.
Damien went to the state tourney as the ILH’s D-II champion, the lone berth allotted by the HHSAA.
It’s happening all over again. With a steely 4-3 win by Damien over St. Francis on a picturesque Thursday afternoon at Hans L’Orange Park, the teams will square off on Saturday afternoon for the title.
St. Francis has won the last three matchups, two of them with junior right-hander Bryce Uyeno on the mound. On Saturday, he was nearly untouchable with a one-hitter over six innings with eight strikeouts and one walk. On Thursday, he was resourceful, giving up no runs and one hit through six innings, a sorta duplicate of Saturday’s performance. In the seventh, he didn’t record an out, was relieved by Kaimana Cameron, who got two outs as three runs crossed home plate for the Saints.
After Cameron walked two batters to load the bases, Damien coach Timo Donahue went to his jack-of-all-trades, second baseman Kaysen Kajiwara. The junior had already smacked a key two-run double in the third inning. This time, Kajiwara and the Monarchs were more lucky than good. Bubba Akana turned on a 1-0 fastball and rocketed the ball. Damien third baseman River Iaea snagged the line drive for the final out.
It’s the kind of play that could sink a team with less grit. After all, the Saints have now lost three games over the past two seasons when all they needed was a single victory to win the crown. But there’s a mega-load of reasons to believe St. Francis, not Damien, will have the edge on Saturday.
>> Uyeno, who threw 79 pitches, will not be able to play due to the pitch-count/rest rule.
>> St. Francis started freshman Kainoa Holt on Thursday, and Yamasaki was in his first outing of the season after returning from injury. That means the Saints have veteran hurlers Kiyo Perry and Zach Alcos available.
Perry threw 104 pitches against Damien on Tuesday, but technically has enough for a short outing. Yamasaki is another possibility. So is freshman Darian Kamibayashi, who was outstanding on Thursday in 3 2/3 innings of relief. Kamibayashi was remarkably poised and tough, challenging the Monarchs on the inside half of the plate. He did not allow a run or a hit, struck out one, walked two and hit one batter while throwing just 30 pitches.
Even if St. Francis wins on Saturday, the season series would be knotted at four as the Saints go to the state tourney. That would be, effectively, a reversion to the mean for these two evenly matched arch rivals. It would be fitting, just as the teams have simmered down in the last three games. The series has gone for borderline feisty and chippy to, well, cerebral. The way a husband and wife go about their routines after a big argument.
Or the way two brothers co-exist after a backyard brawl. There’s respect, and it showed in the post-game handshake line. Two sluggers bruised and battered, taking a break before the final round. An epic battle awaits on Saturday at Hans.
“Most of our guys were here last year in the same situation,” Timo Donahue said. “As long as we throw strikes and play consistent defense, we have a chance.”
The Saints won’t falter in spirit. They’ve come so far, building the program from scratch over the past few years.
“Emotionally, it’s tough, but we didn’t roll over,” Saints coach Kip Akana said. “We’ll use the last inning (rally) as momentum.”
At Hans L’Orange Park
Damien (11-7) 001 300 0 — 4 4 0
St. Francis (9-9) 000 000 3 — 3 3 0
Bryce Uyeno, Kaimana Cameron (7), Kaysen Kajiwara (7) and Shiloh Kaeo. Kainoa Holt, James Yamasaki (4), Darian Kamibayashi (4) and Makana Poole. W—Uyeno. L—Yamasaki. Sv—Kajiwara.
Leading hitters—Damien: Jordan Donahue 1-3, run, double, walk, SB; Kajiwara 1-2, double, 2 RBIs, sac. St. Francis: Alek Miyasato 1-3, double, RBI.