Watching the Datahouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships in Division I was like watching a prize fight.
Game after game, two teams would slug away at each other, only in this case, it was by dumping balls over the outfield fence at record pace. In 11 winners bracket games, 36 homers were hit, more than doubling the previous mark.
In the final however, one team put it all together — pitching, hitting, defense — for one of the most complete and convincing state-championship performances in the 42-year history of the tournament.
Unseeded ‘Iolani, matched up against defending state champion Leilehua — a team who looked like a world beater both in this year’s tournament and in last year’s run to the title — was flawless. A state-final record 17 runs scored in just four innings and the pitching of sisters Aleia and Ailana Agbayani — holding the Mules to just three hits — added up to a stunning, lights-out 17-2 win Saturday night at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium with the biggest margin of victory in a state final ever.
Benny Agbayani, who 19 years ago played in the World Series for the New York Mets, had trouble putting into words what his Raiders team had just accomplished. He struggled to find the right way to talk about what his two daughters had just done on the mound. Tears were forming in his eyes well after the final out had been decided.
Ailana, a freshman, said the reaction wasn’t surprising from her Dad.
“He might not look like an emotional (guy), but he’s emotional,” she said.
When he finally gathered himself, Benny talked about the journey from coming up short in the ILH against Punahou to making a run in a state tournament that was up for grabs from the very start.
“You can’t sum it up. They did what they did,” Benny Agbayani said. “We didn’t win the ILH so we knew our goal over here and I told them, ‘let’s just try to make it to states and see what happens,’ and they did. They believed in each other and they believed in us and they believed in our philosophy.”
That philosophy resulted in a state-tournament record 50 runs scored in four games, breaking the previous mark of 49 set by the Mules a year ago.
Leilehua had won seven straight state-tournament games and had scored double figures in each one entering the final. The Mules hit 12 homers in this year’s state tournament alone.
But against the combination of Aleia and Ailana, the Mules managed to score on a bases-loaded walk and a steal of home plate. That was it.
Ailana had been the workhorse on the mound for ‘Iolani, starting both the ILH regular-season tiebreaker and tournament final against Punahou. But in three of the four wins in the state tournament, the Raiders went with Aleia, the senior, and allowed Ailana to come in as a reliever, where she flourished.
She had never been better than in the final when she entered with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning. She walked in the first run but proceeded to strike out the next five Mules hitters. By the time Leilehua finally put bat on ball, Aleia was back on the mound in the fifth inning with the Raiders leading 17-1.
“Put spin over speed. That’s the key,” Ailana Agbayani said.
“Pray,” was the secret to success Benny said. “That (Leilehua) lineup was very potent. We knew we had to do our homework.”
They also needed to score, which wasn’t a problem all tournament. After scoring 11 runs in each of their first three games, ‘Iolani put up three in the first inning on freshman Allie Capello‘s three-run homer. The first five Raiders to bat in the second inning scored and a nine-run fourth inning, capped by Kai Barrett‘s three-run opposite field blast, put the game away for good.
All that was left was the final three outs. Aleia, a senior, came back on the mound to finish it off and the celebration begun. The victory gave ‘Iolani its third state championship in school history and first since it went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000.
“I can’t believe it,” Benny Agbayani said.