There will never be another Peanut Butter and there may never be another Pearl City softball team quite like this bunch.
With a 1-0 victory over Campbell in the OIA semifinals on Monday at McKinley Softball Stadium, even Chargers coach Chad Obara admitted to a new experience of his own.
“This is the first time I actually jumped up and celebrated,” he said.
Obara and the team in classic white and purple certainly earned that right. The double no-hitter through eight innings between seniors Tyanna “Peanut Butter” Kaaialii and Campbell’s Dani Cervantes might be a first. It wasn’t a crispy, sharp performance of perfection for either. It was, however, a demonstration of savvy decisions and sheer grit by both. Cervantes was more consistent with eight strikeouts and four walks through eight frames, finally surrendering two hits and the winning — and only — run in the ninth.
Kaaialii went the distance, a remarkable nine frames, with a shutout no-hitter and these funk-tastic numbers: 13 strikeouts, 11 bases on balls, one hit batter. It was a classic Peanut Butter effort. Long after the game, as players were bused home to hopefully get some shut-eye before another long day of school and the OIA championship game in less than 24 hours, Kaaialii stayed for an extra moment with her father, assistant coach Roland Kaaialii.
Everything, she said, was aching. She relied heavily on a massively-breaking screwball against the Sabers, who have left-handed hitters in the three hole (Cieana Curran) and four hole (Zoie Recolan). That kind of torque over nine innings — Kaaialii went to a three-ball count on 17 of Campbell’s plate appearances — can’t be much good on the body.
“My elbow hurts. My back,” she said.
Thoughts of pitching in the title game the next day were completely out of sight. The toll of a magnificent pitchers’ duel between, arguably, the two best hurlers in the state, on TV, under the spotlight — it was what an ace like Kaaialii likes.
“I wasn’t surprised it was this close, but the stress is 10 times bigger. It’s a battle by both sides,” she said. “I told myself to keep my composure.”
The trek home would be followed by a cold shower, massage and Motrin, dad said. And some chicken katsu.
Through each passing inning of no-hit ball, it clearly looked like the kind of game that could go beyond any norm. Extra innings? Yes. Ten innings, probable. Fifteen frames? Could not rule it out. On a clear, crisp, cool evening, both pitchers seemed to get stronger with each at-bat. Cervantes hit the corners and had Chargers swinging at air on her crafty drops.
But again, Campbell lost to Pearl City in a game decided by one run. Of the 11 walks issued by Kaaialii, five were to Campbell’s Jocelyn Alo, who moved from leadoff to No. 2 in the lineup recently. Alo didn’t get a real pitch to swing at, and probably never will for the rest of the season as long as opponents can get by throwing to the rest of the Sabers lineup.
The ninth was a godsend for both teams, in a way, with the game running past 10 p.m. on a school night. After all the rainouts of the previous week, seeing all those zeros on the scoreboard was almost surreal. Then it was, in the blink of an eye, over.
Speedy Jaeda McFarland, who had struck out in two of her previous at-bats, patiently worked an 0-2 count against Cervantes. She slapped a pitch foul, then lined the next pitch to the opposite field. She nearly got picked off first base, and after Darian Obara popped out, Noel Saunders stepped into the box.
Saunders, who has one of the smoothest swings in the state, is a lefty like McFarland. Cervantes had made Pearl City’s cleanup hitter look dismal in her first two at-bats, using that nasty drop pitch to get Saunders swinging helplessly on strikeouts. Her coaches reminded her about some basics.
“She was down. We told her, she’s coming up again. We made a little adjustment,” Obara said.
Saunders had walked in the seventh on five pitches. Her confidence had returned.
“I shortened my swing. My coaches said to keep my eye on the ball,” she said. “(Cervantes’) drop ball is real nice.”
This time, in the ninth, she had the count at 3-1 when she poked a slicing, high drive to left. It was one of those opposite-field rips that every outfielder dreads. Left fielder Alesia Ranches had a bead on it, but the ball kept carrying and slicing, bouncing off the fence as McFarland was a blur around the bases. The throw home almost got McFarland, who slid headfirst and was called safe.
Obara, the coach, tested the limits of gravity, the Chargers rushed the plate to celebrate with McFarland, and the purple people of Pearl City are now in the OIA finals.
Pearl City, always a contender, has not won the league crown since 1978 and ’79, when Laurie Apo was the head coach. Mililani has 10 OIA titles, including five under current head coach Rose Antonio. That’s five championships since ’07, including ’14 and ’15.