‘Iolani’s cardiac kids rally for ILH semifinal win over Kamehameha

After struggling early in the season, the ‘Iolani Raiders have become a tough out from the top to the bottom of their lineup. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Mother’s Day is a wee bit happier than usual this year in the Agbayani household. In every ‘Iolani softball household.

Dad saw his struggling team rise up to the league championship game. Daughter No. 2 was the epitome of guts and perseverance in ‘Iolani’s 7-6 comeback win over Kamehameha.

After Ailana Agbayani hurled six innings in relief, dad Benny Agbayani’s Raiders are in the ILH championship game. Ailana Agbayani curtailed a Kamehameha squad that looked every bit a Goliath, striking out five and walking only one as the Raiders rallied from a 4-0 deficit.


“She was exceptional. She is a tough competitor. She knows being the coach’s dad that I expect a lot out of her. She understands that she’s got to be better,” the coach said. “She knows she’s undersized, she has to train harder, do things better. She understands that.”

Kaylee Matsuda scored the game-winning in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“It feels great. We were working really hard and we’re really excited to play our next game,” she said.

Milla Fukuda came through with the game-winning base hit that scored Matsuda.

“We all had to work together in order to score all the runs just throughout all the innings so that we could come into the last inning and score that last run again to win,” Fukuda said.

Allie Capello capped ‘Iolani’s first rally with a run-scoring double in the fourth that gave her team a 5-4 lead. Capello pitched one inning, moved to right field and made what looked like a magnificent, diving catch on a line drive in the gap by Keila Kamoku in the seventh. The play was ruled a hit for Kamoku, who hustled for a double, but Capello’s consistency and versatility help set the standard.

“I was struggling, or I just had two walks, so I knew that maybe (Kamehameha pitcher Madison Rabe) a ball to hit this time. So I put it in play. It was an inside screw that came more up and in.”

Agbayani, a junior, is low-key excited.

“It’s pretty calm. We’ve just got to work out a few things and let everything out on Wednesday,” the BYU commit said.

“It’s going to be like any other game,” said Capello, who is also a junior.

The journey of 2021 will be unforgettable.

“We’re going to play and have fun. We weren’t expecting to have a season so it sprang on to us out of the blue. We only had a month to prepare. We started off a little rocky,” Alaina Agbayani said. “But all of our hard work paid off. We’re just happy to be in a championship. We were one of the schools fully in school. With school and softball, it’s kind of stressful, but it’s fun.”

In the top of the seventh inning, ‘Iolani right fielder Allie Capello made this play on a drive by Kamehameha’s Keila Kamoku. Umpires called Kamoku safe. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Agbayani began the game, as usual, at shortstop. The Warriors had runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but couldn’t punch a run through. Agbayani’s repertoire of pitches, including a screw ball, were difficult to handle. Kamehameha went down 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth, but returned in the seventh with a two-run homer by cleanup hitter Kenna Higa.

Agbayani shook it off and retired the next three batters. Moments later, in the bottom of the seventh, Fukuda’s two-out, opposite-field single scored Matsuda with the winning run.

“She has a plan and she always sticks with it. If it doesn’t work, she looks at it again and goes at it again,” Coach Agbayani said. “We’re at the cages almost every night. She ’s a slap hitter, she’s a bunter, she’s a hitter.”

So are her teammates. It doesn’t happen often, but three weeks ago, ‘Iolani was in a rut. Three starters were at a mainland tournament, then quarantined after returning. The spark was missing from their offense. In the ILH softball gauntlet, every game is unpredictable. Now, there may be no hotter team from the top of the lineup down.

The top five batters in the lineup were 6-for-16 (.375) on Saturday, providing four RBIs and four runs scored. ‘Iolani’s six-through-nine batters were 3-for-10 (.300) with two RBIs, three runs and three sacrifice bunts. Rabe’s screw ball was mesmerizing, possibly the best she has thrown it all season.

“She pitched well. She’s one of the best pitchers in the ILH,” said right fielder Maya Ichimura, who turned a Rabe pitch into an inside-the-park home run in the fifth inning. “We’ve really just been focusing on hitting and taking quality at-bats. Just overall trying to improve every at-bat within the game and improving with each game, as well.”

The Raiders responded by mastering the minutiae. They were hitless the first time through the lineup against Rabe. In the top of the third, Lexie Tilton singled. With two outs, Capello walked and stole second base. Harley Acosta walked. Matsuda then belted a triple to left field, and the Raiders were within 4-2.

An inning later, ‘Iolani patiently chipped away at what had been a masterful performance by Rabe. Fukuda’s infield pop fly swirled in the trade winds and caromed off the glove of Kamoku, who twisted and turned, her back to home plate as she tried valiantly to make the play.

After Kennadie Tsue reached base on an infield single, Tilton followed with a groundout, scoring Fukuda. Not a single ball had reached the outfield. When Agbayani singled to left, Tsue scored and it was 4-all, just like that.

Capello’s double to left brought Agbayani home for a 5-4 Raiders lead.

Then, the dimensional factor. Ala Wai “2”, as it is listed on the league schedule, features a border fence rather than the typical, symmetrical 200-foot fence. The left-field and right-field corners are further from home plate than the distance to center field. Five giant net apparatuses stand at the outfield fence, which separates the outfield from the Ala Wai Canal (and Palolo-Manoa Drainage Canal) walkway.

Right field, though, is a massive piece of real estate that extends all the way to the city’s dog park. With the wind blowing out to right, Ichimura’s long line drive hit the grass and kept going, and going, and going. Her inside-the-park home run was crucial. ‘Iolani’s 6-4 lead was precarious at best.

“We were ready just focusing on slashing this entire game, so I kept my head on the ball and stayed through the ball,” said Ichimura, who knows the terrain well as ‘Iolani’s right fielder. “We really just focus on trying to keep the ball in front and making sure that nothing gets past us, so we’re very used to it.”

Higa’s home run in the seventh, lifting above the nets, caused the leaves on a tree to ripple and fall. The game, however, was tied. Without Ichimura’s four-bagger, the scenario is slightly different. Maybe it affects the pitch calls and strategy of the bottom of the seventh.

Or maybe, ‘Iolani’s mastery of bunting cancels all theory.

“We had the last at-bat. It’s not how your start, it’s how you finish. These girls have been working hard since day one. They get it,” Coach Agbayani said. “There’s not going to be an excuse whether the sun goes down or not.”

That, of course, is a reference to ‘Iolani’s 18-17 win over then-first place Maryknoll two weeks ago. Even in that game, overcoming a 17-10 deficit, the bunt was a vital weapon. Death by a thousand cuts.

Matsuda led off the seventh with a single to left. Ichimura and Keely Kai followed with sacrifice bunts — or were they straight bunt attempts — to advance Matsuda to third base with two outs. Fukuda then delivered a shot to left-center. Ball game.

“I was just trying to drive the runner in because it was, again, a team effort because we all had to come together to score Kaylee in that last inning,” Fukuda said.

Kamehameha very well may be the third-best team in the state. ‘Iolani had no access to its field, a diamond it rebuilt years ago and maintains with a quiet tenacity. Not so long ago, white crabgrass and cracks in the soil made the field difficult to navigate for Little League teams. Good enough to practice on. Not good enough for game play.

The pandemic meant city parks were off-limits, so the Raiders made do where they could. Their return to the field, as well as the return of their mainland tournament players, got the Raiders back in a comfort zone.


“They’re still learning how I want things done, how to play this game. They need to learn how to think for themselves, take responsibility for themselves, and have fun playing the game. We had a late start, we crammed everything on them,” the coach said. “I think they’re underrated. They’re overlooked, but they’re great student-athletes. They’re thy only school going to school 100 percent (in person). I commend Dr. (Timothy) Catrell to working to make sure they don’t fall behind. They bust their butts every day at practice.”

The circumstances of the offseason and preseason were tough for the coaches, too. Agbayani seriously thought about walking away. Was softball during a pandemic worth the time and energy, and would it siphon away the focus it takes to excel in the classroom? Add in the access issue to their field and, sometimes, it just didn’t make sense.

“We wouldn’t have known we were playing for the championship on Wednesday. To tell you the truth, I was going to step down. I didn’t want this season,” he said.

Perhaps Agbayani couldn’t accept the notion of compromise.

“It’s hard to get them into college to play softball, and that’s our goal. That’s what they want and they have the grades. I always joke around with them, I don’t want Mr. Yamamoto or any of the counselors coming on the field to say you can’t practice because of your grades.”

Circumstances got better, though. The players — their devotion to the game, to each other, to their coaches — made all the difference.

“We love these kids. We want them to understand the game, to have fun and make them want to play at the next level. They’ve just got to grasp everything we’re trying to tell them, and run with it,” he said.

Coach Agbayani saw and heard a spirited Kamehameha squad.

“I wish them my best,” he said. “They’re out there playing hard. They battled. That’s what you want to see. I played at the highest level. I want to see these kids represent the 808 and broaden their future. I think a lot of kids in Hawaii have a bright future.”

(See the game story in Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)

At Ala Wai 2
One out when the winning run scored in the seventh.
Kamehameha (7-5) 211 000 2 — 6 11 2
‘Iolani (8-2) 002 310 1 — 7 7 0
Madison Rabe and Nikki Donahue. Allie Capello, Alaina Agbayani (2) and Keely Kai. W—Agbayani. L—Rabe.
Leading hitters—Kamehameha: Keila Kamoku 2-4, 2 runs, double, SB; Kenna Higa 2-4, HR, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Donahue 2-4 triple, 3 RBIs; Destiny Lum 1-3, HR, RBI, run, walk. ‘Iolani: Capello 1-2, RBI, run, double, 2 walks; Kaylee Matsuda 2-4, 2 RBIs, run, triple; Maya Ichimura 1-1, HR, RBI, run, walk, HBP.

COMMENTS

  1. ??? May 9, 2021 3:36 pm

    we please have a team picture without the dang masks? 100’s of HS football players are grabbing, tackling, shaking hands & hugging without masks but some idiot made a rule where you have to take pictures in a mask.
    Even coach Ron Lee said they had ZERO positives with over 80 players giving high fiveS and tackling each other. #STOPTHENONSENSE…..


  2. Paul Honda May 9, 2021 7:01 pm

    ???, there’s something you missed. When players and coaches interact, it is with the blessing of administrators because of the thorough protocols, including COVID-19 testing.

    When I’m on a field or court asking to take a photo or conduct an interview, it is not an automatic yes. I get permission first, and if not, it’s no problem. Unlike the players, I am not required to be tested, but that doesn’t mean we reject the protocols, which are different for me.

    The ‘Iolani softball players took the initiative to keep their masks ON. I respect them for that.

    If safety is not your value, so be it. I’m grateful the keiki got to play this spring. I’m all for common sense, and we are getting more of it, slowly, but surely.


  3. ??? May 10, 2021 7:35 am

    Thanks Paul, I’m just venting like 90% of the world.
    Keep doing what you do, appreciate you!


  4. ILoveHawaii May 10, 2021 8:38 am

    Dang, you must be a former defensive back.

    Because that was some smooth backpedaling.


  5. Q May 10, 2021 12:25 pm

    Sheep
    Government control is through fear.
    Wake up!


  6. ILoveHawaii May 10, 2021 12:55 pm

    And ALOHA is tolerance.
    You acting like those people on the Karen video’s.
    Even your name. SMH.


  7. ??? May 10, 2021 3:46 pm

    #4, LOL.. I no backpedal from no posts, but I know it’s not up to Paul to tell people to take off their masks.


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