There’s little doubt that things are going to get tougher for the Leilehua softball team. After winning the first three games of the OIA West by scores of 16-5, 12-2 and 9-3, how can they not?
The Mules are ranked No. 1 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 and with good reason. Finding reasons why they shouldn’t be ranked there is mighty tough.
Leilehua (3-0) is stacked at the plate and in the field, even though they made four errors in Tuesday’s 9-3 home win over Pearl City. They collected 12 hits, including three home runs (by Kamryn Kamakaiwi, Alohilani Kauhane and Staisa Micky) and added four doubles.
And pitching? Well, according to first-year coach Wendell Au, there’s plenty of that, too. Aside from having No. 1 pitcher Kaena Nistal back from a year ago, Au says he also has a proven starter in Kamakaiwi and plenty more to choose from should he need to go that deep in the pitcher’s circle.
“We have six girls who can pitch, but our rotation is really two starters and one girl, Alyssa Abe, who can come in hot off the bench,” Au said.
Abe threw one hitless inning in relief of Nistal in Tuesday’s win. THe other arms who could potentially throw this season are Kylee Ancheta-Maeda, who was the JV starter, Kiana Domingo and Jacelyn Kepa’a.
But before Leilehua can settle into its No. 1 role, it will have to prove that beating three-time defending Division I state champion Campbell 16-5 was no fluke and take on the best the rest of the West has to offer. There will be rematches against the Sabers and Chargers as well as two games each against powerhouse teams Kapolei and Mililani.
“This is the most team-oriented team I’ve coached,” Au said. “And the West is going to be a battle. You’re facing championship-caliber teams day-in and day-out. There’s no relaxing and you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every time.”
Chad Obara, the Pearl City coach, calls the OIA West a “buzzsaw.”
“Every single game, there’s a championship atmosphere, just like there was (Tuesday),” he said. “In my four years as coach, this is the most even it’s been in the OIA West and around the state. The ILH and Neighbor Islands also have some very good teams and so does the OIA East.”
Obara’s Chargers (1-1) stranded 10 runners on base, including a runner on third three times and the bases loaded once.
>> NOTE: Taylor Au, the Pearl City left fielder, continued to show why she is one of the best outfielders in the state Tuesday.
A year ago, she made ESPN’s SportsCenter with a spectacular catch against Nanakuli when she dove to rob a home run and crashed into the movable fence. It was one of two home runs she took away in that game.
On Tuesday, it wasn’t nearly as brilliant of a highlight, but sure enough, she ran back and put her glove over the fence to nab a ball that would have been a home run off the bat of the Mules’ Reilyenne Nahulu. Au crashed into the fence a bit, too, but remained upright.
The moment did not go unnoticed by Chargers center fielder Noel Saunders.
“Every time she catches a ball going over the fence, it gives me goosebumps,” Saunders said. “I trust her so much. She’s amazing, always going for and getting everything and diving for everything.”