With his team on the verge of accomplishing the improbable for the second year in a row, Damien coach Timo Donahue turned to the guys he did it with before.
After St. Francis won the regular season title last year, Damien had to beat St. Francis four times in a row to win the ILH’s second division and the league’s lone state berth. The Monarchs were put in the exact same situation this season and Saturday’s game at Hans L’Orange Park marked the fourth consecutive game between the two teams.
Like last year, Damien came through in an 11-7 victory aided by timely hitting and a gutsy performance from the Monarchs’ pitching staff.
With the season on the line and a pitching rotation that was stretched thin just to make it to Saturday, Donohue turned to Milton Gainey for the start, and the senior kept the St. Francis lineup at bay with four runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings. Kaycee Natividad then recorded an out before yielding to Kaimana Cameron for a 2 1/3 inning save.
“We talked about it as a staff yesterday. The bottom line was that we were gonna hand the ball to our seniors,” Donahue said. “They each went out there and did their job on the mound. We have a lot of guys and our staff is kind of deep I think, and our seniors just carried it for us.”
The Saints trotted out ace Kiyo Perry, but the Monarchs were able to get to him early and often for eight runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.
After a scoreless first inning, Damien manufactured two runs in each of the next four frames. Pomai Kim, the sixth hitter in the Damien batting order, hit home runs on the first two pitches he saw. He first went deep in the second inning to drive in Cameron, and then followed with a solo shot in the fourth inning.
“My mind was blank because I was surprised I hit them, honestly,” he said. “It took hard work and teamwork. I couldn’t have hit the home runs without my teammates back there having my back and in practice they’d rag on me because I couldn’t hit it over.”
“We got guys in and each guy did their job getting the guy over, then the next guy clutches up a base hit,” Donahue said of his team’s execution at the plate. “You couldn’t write it up better than that.”
Leadoff hitter Akila Arecchi, also a star for the Monarchs on the football field, set the tone offensively with a 3-for-5 effort with three RBIs and two runs.
“Their pitcher today is pretty good. He had our number all season,” Arecchi said. “I was just trying to look at a lot of pitches, start the game off and get on base for my teammates behind me so they can get their hits too.
“You never know with these guys. Our approach, we just tried to stay in it throughout the whole game to the last out.”
In addition to locking down the save, Cameron went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, a double and two runs.
“I’m feeling good. Probably my best outing hitting wise.” he said. “Pitching, just need to work on my location and getting the fastball down.”
Facing an 8-2 deficit heading into the home half the fifth, the Saints responded with a two-run home run from Zach Alcos. After a throwing error from River Iaea with men on second and third, the Damien lead was cut to 8-6.
Damien padded its lead with a three-run sixth inning after a clutch single from Arecchi drove in Iaea and Paul Mezurashi. Arecchi was driven in by Cameron later in the inning.
With runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Chase Akana lined out to Damien second baseman Kaysen Kajiwara, who doubled off Reece Kadota at first to end the game.
Once Kajiwara’s stellar defensive play was made, the suspense was suddenly gone and the rest of Damien’s team mobbed the mound to celebrate.
After getting the final out, Cameron coolly pointed to the sky and struck a pose.
“We’ve been here before and we gotta act like we’ve been here before,” he said. “On to states we go.”