All things considered in a heated, epic battle between two historical rivals, Keenan Sue did the right thing.
Not that he would agree fully. Punahou’s 10-inning, 5-4 victory over ‘Iolani put the Buffanblu in the driver’s seat of the ILH baseball chase. But it was a wild 10th inning that was both dramatic and clutch.
First, the top of the 10th. Tate Shimao of ‘Iolani at second base. Two outs. Taner Aranaydo swings at a 1-0 pitch from Matt McConnell. Line drive to center. Shimao races around third base, waved in. The risk is worthwhile. McConnell has pitched well, even after more than five innings.
Punahou center fielder Koa Eldredge, who got the win on the mound Tuesday against St. Francis, fields the ball cleanly and whips a beautiful throw home on the fly to catcher Matt Nishimura. Shimao anticipates the tag and leaps over the glove of Nishimura. But he’s caught in no-man’s land, beyond home plate. Punahou’s bench hollers at Nishimura, who never loses sight of his target. The tag is made. Inning over.
Nishimura pulls his mask up and shares his thoughts with Shimao. More words are exchanged. The benches begin to empty. A Punahou player wearing a jersey and shorts sprints onto the field behind home plate. Neither team is shy, not now, not ever. The teams empty out for a few moments, then return to their dugouts. Sort of.
‘Iolani stands in front of its dugout. Some players are still near home plate. Maybe the Raiders and their fans are expecting some kind of reaction from the home plate umpire. However, he had been sweeping home plate after the play was done. He didn’t see anything much.
The bottom of the 10th starts. Jadon Arakaki, ‘Iolani’s third pitcher, lets fly a fastball. Jake Tsukada is ready.
“I wasn’t really feeling it during the game, so I was just trying to put a good at-bat together,” he said.
The left-handed hitting shortstop parks the ball high down the right-field line. He doesn’t watch the ball. He sprints around first and is on his way to second base when he realizes ‘Iolani’s infield, and the outfielders, have stopped moving. The ball clears the fence, which is 325 feet from home plate at Goeas Field.
“I’m not a power hitter,” Tsukada said after the game.
On the opening day of the MLB season, Tsukada certainly is the power.
He touches home plate, and Aaron Tom, the next batter, is nearby. Game over. But the Buffanblu aren’t on the field celebrating. They’re in the dugout, waiting for their teammates. Only after Tsukada touched home plate and approached the dugout, the Buffanblu began to congratulate their teammate. Coach Keenan Sue gave the order to wait, but regretted it later.
“I should’ve let them celebrate (on the field). I acted too much like a dad. We forget that they’re super competitive. With the walk-off home run, I just felt like we hadn’t won anything yet,” he said.
It was understandable, especially given the high tension just minutes earlier between the teams.
“That framed my response,” Sue added.
The teams, No. 2 ‘Iolani and No. 4 Punahou, shook hands cordially after a battle that had the intensity of a championship game. There will be more in this wild season. Punahou is now in control of its destiny at 9-1 in the ILH. Saint Louis is 8-2 and ‘Iolani is 8-3 after its second-consecutive 10-inning loss.
“It’s just another day in the ILH. It’s competitive. It’s fun. It’s an honor to play in this league,” ‘Iolani coach Kurt Miyahira said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way, but we’ll continue to trust what we do. We got some young pitchers who got some quality innings. They’re growing up and they’re going to be crucial to us.”
Tsukada believes there will be no emotional letdown by the Buffanblu when they meet Maryknoll on Saturday.
“It’s a great team win from everybody on the field to the bench. It’s two competitive teams and we put in so much work this off-season that we let our emotions get the best of us. No harm done and I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” he said. “We’re going to bring it at every practice.”
The first nine innings were as eventful as it gets in all aspects.
The Raiders opened the game with three quick runs in the top of the first on a steaming-hot afternoon. ‘Iolani loaded the bases against Punahou starter Landon Carter, and Micah Miyahira’s walk forced in Aaron Ujimori from third base. Jacob Hinderleider socked a single to left, bringing home Micah Yonamine and Shane Sasaki.
Punahou got runners in scoring position in the first two innings and came up empty, just part of a day when it stranded 16 Buffanblu. In the bottom of the fourth, they pushed two runs across. With one out, Nishimura was hit by pitch, Makana Murashige singled and Hirano walked.
With the sacks filled, Kalae Harrison walked to bring Nishimura home. Tsukada followed with a fielder’s choice grounder that scored Murashige, cutting ‘Iolani’s lead to 3-2.
The Buffanblu took the lead in the sixth with two runs off Andrew Quemado. Tsukada and Tom singled with one out, and pitch hitter Cody Kashimoto’s high chopper near the mound took a funny hop for a single, bringing Tsukada home for the tying run.
Kirk Terada-Herzer then surprised the Raiders with a bunt on the right side. Hinderleider, the second baseman, scooped up the ball, but couldn’t get it out of his glove as Terada-Herzer reached base safely and Tom raced home from third base to give Punahou a 4-3 lead.
Then came the top of the seventh, with McConnell in a groove. He was one out away from victory after striking out Yonamine. He tried to jam Sasaki inside, but the bat speed of the talented senior was too much. Sasaki went inside-out and sent the ball soaring over the fence in right-center, more than 400 feet away.
Another ‘Iolani clutch hit in a season filled with them had the Raiders tied at 4. In the ninth, game still tied, Sasaki came to the plate with two outs and a runner on base. Harrison, the second baseman, told his dugout to walk Sasaki, and that’s what McConnell did. Two pitches later, he retired Miyahira on a foul pop fly to end the inning.
McConnell’s second appearance out of the bullpen in as many games was superlative.
“I just wanted to get ahead. I had to throw all my stuff because they’re all good hitters,” said McConnell, who had seven strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. He gave up just one run on five hits.
He smiled about Eldredge’s fine throw home in the 10th.
“Koa is a beast,” McConnell said.
At Goeas Field
‘Iolani (18-6, 8-3 ILH) 300 000 100 0 — 4 9 3
Punahou (17-2-1, 9-1 ILH) 000 202 000 1 — 5 7 1
Micah Miyahira, Andrew Quemado (4), Jordan Arakaki (8) and Blake Hiraki. Landon Carter, Matt McConnell (5) and Matt Nishimura. W—McConnell. L—Arakaki.
Leading hitters—‘Iolani: Shaydon Kubo 2-5, Shane Sasaki 2-2, HR, RBI, 2 runs, 2 BB; Tate Shimao 2-5. Punahou: Jake Tsukada 2-5, HR, 2 RBIs, 2 runs.