Expect fireworks in ‘Iolani/Leilehua softball final

Eleven runs in each of their first three games has been enough for the ‘Iolani Raiders to reach the Division I final in the Datahouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.

But will it be enough to defeat the defending state champion Leilehua Mules, who have scored 44 runs in their three games?

“Nope,” ‘Iolani coach Benny Agbayani said matter-of-factly after ‘Iolani’s 11-8 win over Baldwin on Friday night. “Nothing is enough to beat Leilehua. They’re a tough team. We’ve really got to play them all seven innings. They are going to come out firing.”

The two highest-scoring teams in the state tournament are fittingly through to the final in a tournament that has more than doubled the previous record for homers. Seven more were hit Friday — four by Leilehua — to make it 34 through 10 games. The previous record was 16.

Leilehua has hit 12 of them — four in each game. Outfielder Kawena Kahana-Travis, who hadn’t hit a home run all season, went deep in back-to-back at-bats to end a 21-10 win over Lahainaluna in the quarterfinals and then hit a grand slam in an eight-run first inning against the Buffanblu.

Leilehua, which has scored 22 runs in the first inning of its three games in the tournament, hit for the cycle in home runs in the first two innings. Alanna Jara-Parker hit a three-run homer and Gianna Araki added a solo shot in the first inning. Lovey Kepaa then hit a two-run shot in the second inning.

Kahana-Travis, Kepaa and ‘Iolani’s Aleia Agbayani all have hit three homers to lead the tourney.

Yet through all of that offense, Leilehua senior Alyssa Abe has a chance to win her fourth game of the tournament on the mound. Abe executed her pitches in a complete game against Punahou and has recorded all but four outs in the tournament for the Mules.

Last year, Abe was the No. 2 pitcher on the staff but Leilehua coach Wendell Au decided to go with Kaena Nistal in relief of Kamryn Kamakaiwi in the second inning of the state final against Punahou. It was a gut feeling and it paid off. The Mules won their first state championship, but it was a tough moment for Abe.

“This year she’s had some fire because of it,” Au said. “She was warming up (last year) and I just put Nistal in and I think that’s one of those things where you lose a battle but you win a war. I’m glad that battle was lost because that fire in her is unbelievable. She wants this.”

Abe was emotional after the semifinal victory over the Buffanblu and needed a minute to regain her composure before an interview with the media. That fire and that desire was obvious as she talked about her teammates.

“I had a great defense behind me and I had an amazing offense to back me up all the way so there was no doubt in my mind about this game,” she said. “It’s really my team that just keeps me fully in there. Without them I don’t even know what I’d be doing right now.”

A win over ‘Iolani would make Abe the ninth pitcher to win four straight games in the state softball tournament, joining Punahou’s Jaci Young (2013), Campbell’s Katie Manuma (2010), Mililani’s Kishti Kamaka (2009), Pearl City’s Corrie Nishikida (2006), Mililani’s Makani Duhaylonsod (2005), Pearl City’s Leiko Kurosawa (1992), Waimea’s Crystal Chun (1990) and Kamehameha’s Noe Miranda (1987).

Every winning team so far has scored double figures in runs. Holding Punahou to four in seven innings was one of the best performances of the tournament on the mound.

“Hats off to her. She has a lion’s heart and that’s all I can ask for,” Au said. “To think you’re going to strike out plenty people is rough but as long as the pitches I call are there and it’s in the location we just have to play defense after that and she had some good teammates making some really nice plays out there in the field.”

‘Iolani started freshman Ailana Agbayani in both the ILH regular-season tiebreaker and ILH tournament final against Punahou, but has switched things up at states.

Senior Aleia Agbayani got the start in wins over Waianae and Baldwin with Ailana Agbayani coming on in relief.

Ailana Agbayani recorded eight straight outs after replacing her sister in the fifth inning against the Bears and looked fresh and had some extra life on her pitches.

“We talk it over and we’ll see who should take the mound and I think Aleia being a senior and being a leader wanted the ball,” Benny Agbayani said. “I told her this is it and she said, ‘Dad, I want the ball.’ ”

Even though she’s three years younger, Ailana has that same desire to want the ball, leaving pops to make the tough decisions.

“They know their place and they’ve been working very hard and that’s one thing they have been doing — working very hard at their pitching and trying to get better and better,” Benny Agbayani said.

This is the first state final for ‘Iolani since it went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000 for its only two state softball championships.

First pitch is 7 p.m.


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