Defense lifts No. 2 Owls over No. 1 ‘Iolani

Mid-Pacific senior Shion Matsushita held 'Iolani to five hits and got help from his defense in the Owls' 1-0 win over 'Iolani on Tuesday. Photo by Jerry Campany/Star-Advertiser.

There’s no denying the high of delivering a timely hit.

Going airborne for a catch to deny a threat? Well, that sensation comes awfully close … if not better.

“It feels amazing. It feels like nothing else,” Mid-Pacific outfielder Jet Uechi said Tuesday.

Uechi would know after making a diving snag with the bases loaded in the first inning of the second-ranked Owls’ ILH duel with No. 1 ‘Iolani at the Raiders’ field.

MPI right fielder Micah Pi experienced much the same when he tracked down a deep drive with two runners on in the sixth, securing an inning-ending catch just before smacking into the fence.

The impact of both gems were magnified following the Owls’ 1-0 win in an early-season defensive classic.

“They’re both really key elements of the game,” Pi said in comparing a defensive stop to a key RBI, “but making a play like that is really exciting and gets the motivation going. It kind of shifts the momentum of the game and hypes us up.”

‘Iolani coach Kurt Miyahira called Uechi’s catch “one of the best high school plays I’ve ever seen” and Pi’s grab at the fence helped starter Shion Matsushita earn his second win of the ILH season.

Matsushita struggled with his command with two outs in the bottom of the first when he issued two four-pitch walks then hit a batter to load the bases. Zack Kon then drilled a liner into right-center and Uechi laid out to make the snag to end the inning.

“That was a life saver,” Matsushita said. “Right after the play I thanked him.”

Matsushita settled down and allowed just one more walk and held ‘Iolani to five hits over six innings before being lifted in the seventh.

Kyle Layugan went 2-for-3 and earned the save for MPI. Photo by Jerry Campany.

“He had a mechanical problem and Coach Craig (Hayashi) fixed him,” MPI coach Dunn Muramaru said. “(Matsushita) figured it out, that’s the main thing.”

The Owls also benefitted from a bit of fortune in the third when an ‘Iolani runner stumbled rounding third and was thrown out at the plate. They scratched out the game’s lone run in the fifth when Jacob Yoshino singled, advanced on an errant pickoff and scored when Kyle Layugan’s single into left was bobbled.

Layugan, the Owls’ starting catcher, went to the mound with a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh and got the first out on a sacrifice bunt and the second on a swinging strikeout.

The third pitch to Shaydon Kubo was in the dirt and snuck between the legs of catcher MacKenzie Higuchi. The freshman scrambled after the ball in time to throw the runner out at third to end the game.

‘Iolani’s defense also backed up a solid performance by right-hander Trevor Ichimura, the most spectacular case being left fielder Matthew Inaba’s diving catch of a foul fly with the bases loaded in the fourth. Ichimura gave up seven hits, struck out three and walked one in a complete-game effort.

“Trevor did a great job,” Miyahira said. “It’s a tough league, nothing’s free. We play on Friday and we’ll see what we’re made of.”

‘Iolani (1-1) next faces Pac-Five. Mid-Pacific improved to 3-0 with wins over No. 9 Kamehameha, No. 7 Punahou and No. 1 ‘Iolani and takes on No. 5 Saint Louis at Goeas Field on Friday.

“We got one more game this week and that Saint Louis team, they’re good,” Muramaru said.


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