Leave it to a sophomore who hadn’t swung a bat all game to end the Damien curse.
The Saints’ baseball team ended three years of ILH tournament frustration with one swing of the bat by Jayden Simpliciano, whose walk-off single scored Bubba Akana with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 2-1 victory over Damien on Wednesday at Hans L’Orange Park.
Simpliciano, who came on as a pinch hitter, drilled a ball over the head of the center fielder to deliver the Saints (13-4) their first ILH championship since 2016.
“Coach always tells us to be ready and I just waited on the side waiting for my opportunity,” Simpliciano said. “(The ball) just started to drift back and I knew it was over the (center fielder’s) head.”
Pinch hitter Jayden Simpliciano singles to center to score Bubba Akana with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and St. Francis beats Damien 2-1 for ILH D-II crown. pic.twitter.com/rM40aqeuPD
— Billy Hull (@billyhull) April 25, 2019
St. Francis has won the ILH regular season in Division II in four consecutive seasons but had lost four times in a row to Damien in both 2017 and ’18 to miss out on the state tournament.
The Monarchs beat the Saints again this year, 9-8 in nine innings, to advance to the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament before the Saints came back to win 9-0 on Tuesday and win again on Wednesday.
“Damien’s a tough team and they gave us a good game and it was just our day today,” said Akana, who finished 2-for-3. “We’re going to states.”
With the score tied 1-1 to open the bottom of the seventh, Akana ripped a single to right and took second on a sacrifice bunt. Damien’s River Iaea, who pitched a complete game, struck out Darian Kamibayashi for the second out before intentionally walking Kiyo Perry.
St. Francis coach Kip Akana sent up Simpliciano to hit for his son, Chase, and watched the sophomore hit a ball over the head of the center fielder to end it.
“We told the kids we have a lot of returnees and this would be a tough lineup to crack,” Kip Akana said. “(Simpliciano) came in late — a basketball player — and is an excellent player for us at the lower levels. He was a little discouraged and we had a talk. Throughout this season there are so many guys that have come up big for us in big games.”
Bubba Akana, who signed to play for Hawaii, said his first thought on Simpliciano’s game-winning hit was extra innings.
“I thought it was a pop up at first,” Bubba Akana said. “I rounded third and I looked back and it was going over his head and I put my arms up and sprinted home to celebrate with my teammates.”
Kamibayashi replaced starter Brayden Nomura with one out in the fifth inning and got five of the six batters he faced out to record the win.
Reece Kadota tripled and scored in the first inning for the Saints and the Monarchs tied it on a wild pitch to score Iaea, who had two hits, in the top of the sixth.
The St. Francis baseball team will join the softball and boys volleyball teams in upcoming state tournaments.
The Division II state tournament begins on May 9 on Kauai.
“I’m overjoyed for the alumni that had the courage to stick it out at St. Francis,” Kip Akana said. “With it being the last season, this is the culmination of a lot of blood, sweat and tears from people who came before and we appreciate it. This is our gift to them.”