For two West side softball powerhouses, it’s a different perspective.
The Leilehua Mules are defending state champions and ranked No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Kapolei is at No. 8 and trying to move forward in a circumstance it has no control over.
Hurricanes coach Keoke Behic has experienced just about everything in prep softball from his time as a coach at Pearl City — he guided the Chargers to a state title in 2006 — as an assistant at Campbell, and as the head coach at Kapolei.
The ‘Canes’ OIA regular-season opener was tough against the seasoned, talented Mules. Leilehua scored five quick runs in the first inning and led all the way in a 10-4 win at sunny, then cool Kaala Elementary School field.
“It’s a first game. There’s lots we can work on. Our goal is to be hot at the end,” Behic said.
The ‘Canes played without standout pitcher and hitter Cira Bartolotti, who did not return to the team for her senior season, Coach Behic said. Bartolotti has already signed with Hawaii.
“Cira decided not to play this year, but the team wants her back. At this point, if she came back, it would be up to our administration,” he said. “She could help us in so many ways.”
The ‘Canes have talent, no mistake about it. They had 11 hits against Leilehua ace Alyssa Abe, but stranded nine base runners against the crafty hurler. Chasity McKean belted a home run, and so did pinch hitter Jordan Makaena.
Bartolotti was 6-8 as a pitcher last season — she struck out 76 batters in 80 innings — and batted .302 with five home runs. Her power, versatility and speed are all assets, but after playing summer and winter ball, she and her family opted to have her sit this spring.
Meanwhile, Coach Wendell Au‘s Mules were loose, focused, timely. Gianna Araki, one of their sluggers from last season’s title team, homered in the sixth inning. She isn’t carrying the team on her shoulders because the entire lineup makes contact. Kiana Domingo had a pair of two-run doubles and the top half of the lineup gets on base.
>> Kayla Hale, leadoff hitter: 2-for-3, run scored, sacrifice bunt
>> Alyssa Asuncion, No. 2 hitter: 2-for-3, double, walk, three runs scored
>> Araki, No. 3 hitter: 1-for-3, home run, two runs scored, walk
>> Alana Jaren-Parker, cleanup hitter: 2-for-4, double, two runs scored, RBI
>> Domingo, No. 5 hitter: 2-for-4, run scored, four RBIs
That is a .578 on-base percentage for the top five hitters in the Leilehua lineup.
For Leilehua, the crowds are larger. Family and friends, classmates and faculty, all asking about the possible championship repeat.
Araki homered seven times last year en route to Star-Advertiser all-state honors. This season, she moved from first base to catcher.
“I love it. Catching is my main position and I finally got it back, so I’m excited,” Araki said.
Domingo might be the tallest Mule on the roster, but her leverage and balance are uncanny.
“I was just looking for a base hit,” she said of her doubles. “Anything that’s close.”
Araki and Domingo are only juniors, though Araki may seem like she’s been around for ages. She’s been on the varsity roster since freshman year. Her approach remains balanced.
“Whatever comes my way. What happens, happens. If it goes, it goes,” Araki said of her ability to hit with power.
The Mules hit the weight room in the offseason, and during season, they do CrossFit twice a week.
“I think it helps us physically and mentally,” Araki said. “Because it teaches everyone that if you’re mentally strong, you can push through it, and that’s we apply to our games.”
Domingo is significantly stronger this season.
“I just like lifting weights, but the endurance part, not a fan,” she admitted.
The Mules have 24 players on the varsity roster, including several who recently competed their JV seasons.
“For me, since I was around since freshman year, being on varsity helped me mature and grow faster. We already know the attitude. We were able to form a bond and the maturity that carries onto the field,” Araki said.
“It’s different without the seniors from last year,” Domingo added.
They both are open to questions from their younger teammates.
“I tell them my personal experience. How being on the bench isn’t like a punishment. It’s just for you to get better and learn more about the game,” Domingo said.
The bull’s eye, the target, might be on the backs of the defending state champions, but they’re taking it in stride.
“It comes from everybody, everyone in Wahiawa. You can be at a store here and someone will see you in a jersey, and be like, ‘So you guys are going to be winning these games this year, huh?’ “
“I like the support that we get from the community,” Domingo said. “I feel like that pushes us.”
The classmates had a word or two for former teammates.
“Shout out to Pomai Nahulu in Spokane, Wash.,” Domingo said.
“Shout out to Stasia Mickey, Edmonds College,” Araki said. “Thanks for giving me the strength to be able to catch this year. I really appreciate it because without you. I wouldn’t be mentally strong to catch.”
At Kaala Elementary School
Kapolei (0-1) 001 102 0 — 4 11 2
Leilehua (1-0) 510 301 x — 10 13 1
Jade Behic, Tatum Guzman (6) and Puakea Milbourne. Alyssa Abe and Gianna Araki. W—Abe. L—Behic.
Leading hitters—Kapolei: Tatum Guzman 2-4, Behic 2-4, run; Kawena Hussey 2-4, RBI, run; Jordan Makaena 1-1, HR, RBI, run; Chasity McKean 2-3, HR, RBI, run. Leilehua: Kayla Hale 2-3, run; Alyssa Asuncion 2-3, 3 runs, double, BB; Gianna Araki 1-3, HR, 2 runs; Alana Jaren-Parker 2-4, double, RBI, 2 runs; Kiana Domingo 2-4, 2 doubles, 4 RBIs, run; Daysha Paraguelles 2-4, RBI; Mikayla Pinera 1-3, 2 RBIs.