For any coach, even Stacie Mahoe, it was not an easy task to embrace. Yet, nobody knows more about the Kapolei Hurricanes softball program.
With the retirement of Tony Saffrey, who guided the ‘Canes to the OIA crown last season, as well as in ’04 and ’05, Mahoe was tabbed to take over a largely successful program after 14 seasons as an assistant coach. She was also an interim head coach for a season along the way, but that, of course, was temporary. This is permanent, and with that comes the kind of patience and perseverance she has known since her years as a player and assistant.
The ‘Canes competed and battled and lost 8-1 to a voracious hitting attack assembled by the visiting Mililani Trojans on Friday. Kapolei was without two starting infielders — one was on a college visit and the other had the flu — and the result was a struggle against the powerful Trojans. As a team with just three seniors, Kapolei dropped to 2-5 in the OIA West, a division that has rivaled the ILH from top to bottom as the most difficult statewide for roughly a decade.
Things have been so rough in the West that a team like Waianae, which has produced college-level players for ages, is winless. In the West, there’s no question that the teams in the upper half of the standings — Pearl City, Campbell, Mililani, Leilehua, which are four of the seven in the West — can compete with any four teams elsewhere. Add Kapolei to that mix, as well as a former D-II powerhouse in Nanakuli (OIA D-II titles in ’12, ’13, ’14 and ’16), and it’s not difficult to see why the West is producing an ample number of college softball players. The tuition for any OIA school, of course, can’t be beat, nor can anyone really say they miss the commute it requires to attend an ILH school.
1. Pearl City (6-1)
2. Campbell (6-1, defending state champion)
3. Mililani (5-2)
4. Leilehua (4-3)
5. Kapolei (2-5)
6. Nanakuli (1-6)
7. Waianae (0-6)
1. (tie) Kamehameha (5-1-1)
1. (tie) ‘Iolani (5-1-1)
3. Punahou (4-3)
4. Maryknoll (4-4)
5. Pac-Five (1-6)
6. Mid-Pacific (0-6)
If we cross-wire things for fun, Pearl City and Kamehameha are a great matchup. Kamehameha’s ace is recovering from a shoulder injury, but when she returns, that gives the Warriors and their small-ball intricacies a slight edge. ILH 1, OIA West 0.
Campbell and ‘Iolani? The Raiders are having a magical season with clutch comebacks. But the Sabers are the Sabers, the two-time defending champs. Tough to edge them out against anyone. OIA West 1, ILH 1.
Mililani vs. Punahou. The Buffanblu have power and speed, and in a 13-9 win over Maryknoll, showed that they can overcome defensive deficiencies. But Mililani is the more consistent team, not as potent at the plate, and has enough clout and efficient offense to compete. Defense matters. OIA West 2, ILH 1.
Leilehua vs. Maryknoll. Among the eight teams mentioned in these matchups so far, Leilehua is the one team I’ve yet to see. I know, however, they’ve been playing solid softball. Maryknoll is talented, young and thin. The roster has 11 active players. That makes a crucial difference in the late innings, and though Coach John Uekawa is a master of chess moves on the diamond, the Spartans can hang with anyone and still fall as they did against Punahou on Saturday. OIA West 3, ILH 1.
Kapolei and Pac-Five. Yet another year and another sport where I can’t help but wonder how far Pac-Five would go if it were in the OIA. For decades, the Wolfpack football team often went 3-1 or 2-2 against public schools, only to go winless or close to it in the lethal ILH. Right now, Kapolei struggles against the powerhouses, but could string together some wins at the right time. The same could be said of the ‘Pack. But my gut says the ‘Canes are closer to making a run to the peak. OIA West 4, ILH 1.
Waianae vs. Mid-Pacific. The Seariders have groomed some amazing talent in recent seasons, but have struggled this season. The Owls, likewise, but gave Punahou (13-10) and Maryknoll (5-4) some grueling competition. OIA West 4, ILH 2.
The wild-card in this pupule scenario is St. Francis, a team of immense power and potential. Against an all D-I schedule, the Saints are 5-3 and would be in third place if they weren’t designated a D-II program for softball. So, for balance sake, my final division-versus-division numbers are: OIA West 4, ILH 3.
That’s close. For Kapolei, which has been near the top many a time, success in the OIA playoffs and, possibly, the state tourney wouldn’t be a shock. Saffrey, the former coach, recalls some seasons when they got into the HHSAA tourney as the OIA’s sixth and final entry and had some success.
This season, they pushed frontrunner Pearl City into extra innings before losing. There was a 3-1 loss to Leilehua. Sadie Kapaku-You, who started most of their games on the mound before settling in at shortstop recently, was effective in her relief stint on Saturday.
“We need to do a better job of hitting the ball on game day,” Mahoe said. “We hit the ball good in practice. We just need to work on our mental game in the box.”
That’s something the ‘Canes have time to develop. Come playoff time, it won’t be the West they’ll have to knock out. As the No. 6 in the West, Kapolei will likely match up with Roosevelt, Kaiser or Kailua in the opening round. With the East far from its heyday of a decade ago — Castle has forfeited games due to academic ineligibility, Kailua hasn’t contended for a title in some time — Moanalua is the clear alpha dog. Kapolei won’t have to deal with the East frontrunners unless it wins that key opening-round game, and maybe even not then.
The ‘Canes, who won their lone state championship in ’04, are confident they can peak at the right time.
“We need to hit the ball,” Mahoe said.