Punahou was on its way to clinching a state tourament berth … or so it seemed.
The Buffanblu jetted out to a 4-0 lead in a major ILH baseball duel Saturday and positive energy was emanating from their dugout.
Over on the Saint Louis side, it was real quiet. The Crusaders left the bases loaded in the second inning and it looked like the game was going to be a dud for them.
“It’s been a struggle for us all year,” said Crusaders coach George Gusman, looking back on the many close games. “All year, there’s been so many situations we’ve gotten runners on and couldn’t come up with the bit hit.”
Let it be known, however, that part of Gusman’s figurative tears are the crocodile kind. Saint Louis is still a sparkling 12-3 in league play, just a half-game behind Punahou after a 10-6 victory at Central Oahu Regional Park.
“We’ve been constantly trying to play better and get some momentum,” the coach added. “It’s been a roller coaster the entire season. You can look at it both ways, I guess. By playing in those close games, you find out things about your players that help in the long run.”
One thing Gusman learned Saturday was that senior Hunter Peneueta has what it takes to turn a losing cause into a winning one.
“He’s been struggling a little bit, but he’s been mentally strong,” Gusman said about Peneueta, a three-year starter. “We helped him in that at-bat in terms of what we thought the pitcher would do. It ended up being a blessing for us.”
That third inning at-bat was a momentum changer if ever there was one.
The Crusaders (12-3) had already turned that four-run deficit to two at 4-2 when Peneueta struck gold by cranking a three-run homer to left field. The whole Saint Louis bench came out to greet him, and just as important, that eerie silence turned to shrieks of joy.
“We were just trying to cut it in half at that point,” Gusman said. “All of a sudden, you take the lead. I would have been perfectly happy with cutting it in half, nibble away.”
Saint Louis didn’t trail again and Punahou (12-2) saw its six-game winning streak come to an end.
In their final regular-season game Monday, the Buffanblu can clinch the regular-season title and a berth in the Division I state tournament by beating Kamehameha at Goeas Field.
“It’s a big win,” Peneueta said. “We knew we had to get this. It’s (the title) not in our hands now. We’ll wait to see what happens.”
Said Punahou’s Makana Murashige, who tripled twice and drove in three runs: “Honestly we played a good game. It wasn’t our best day, but that’s just how it goes. That’s baseball. We’ll come out on Monday and give it our all and hope for the best.”
Two ILH teams aside from the regular-season champion will make it into the D-I state tourney via the league’s postseason tournament April 20-26.