Joshua Lee can belt the ball a long way with his bat, but it’s the minutiae of execution as a team that intrigues the Waipahu junior.
Lee blasted a two-run homer in the first inning, then smacked a run-scoring double in the third as unbeaten Waipahu sealed first place in OIA Division II with a 9-4 win over Radford on Wednesday.
Lee came up with the big hits, but he and his teammates and coaches work diligently on the little things, as coach Ian Ferris said.
“We’ve got to take care of all the little things every day, and eventually we’ll get to the big goals down the road.”
Case in point, Radford had cut a five-run deficit to 6-4 entering the fifth inning. With Waipahu starting pitcher Jencen Villanueva beginning to tire, the Marauders needed a jolt. With two runners on base, Jonston Viloria, who had replaced injured second baseman Javin Barcenilla, laid down a picture-perfect bunt toward third base. His infield single loaded the bases, setting up a three-run inning — including an RBI double by Jayden Borja — that put the game out of reach for the Rams.
Borja and Lee, the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters in the Waipahu lineup, came through in the clutch.
“Josh has been hot. He’s been real hot, even at practice when we do our live scrimmage, he’s been swinging it well. Between he and Jayden Borja, the two of them, the last three or four games, they’ve been real hot. Multiple hits, really getting the offense going,” Ferris said.
“We tease Josh about being a good bad-ball hitter. Earlier in the season he tended to overswing on those pitches, but like the one you saw today, he squared that fastball up. Earlier this season, he might have swung through that, kind of pulled off a little bit. It’s kind of like what he did last year when we were up in D-I, he got hot in the second half of the year where it’s a matter of finding his rhythm,” Ferris added.
Waipahu’s response to being demoted to D-II has been all positive. The biggest of goals is in sight, even though Lee and his teammates are staying focused on the next task at hand.
“We’ve been talking to them from the get-go about what our big goals are. We don’t hide from talking about states,” Ferris said. “That’s a big goal, but we’ve got to take care of all the little things every day, and eventually we’ll get to the big goals down the road. They understand they’ve got to stay in the moment, and that’s what they did today. We battled, Radford battled and pushed us. I love the way our guys answered that.”
No state-tournament berth is secure yet in the OIA, though Waipahu and Radford have sealed byes in the first round of the playoffs. Across the state, D-II remains strong with St. Francis of the ILH in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Kapaa is 4-1-1 in the tough KIF entering this week’s slate. The BIIF’s top team is Kamehameha-Hawaii (13-0), which knocked off D-I leader Waiakea last week. Molokai (5-1) leads the MIL D-II race.
“That’s one of the things we’ve talked about,” Ferris said. “We’re not necessity preparing just for what we’re seeing in OIA D-II. We went to Kauai earlier in preseason. We’ve seen what they’ve got. Kapaa threw their No. 4 against us. There are good teams out there. We want to make sure we’re at our best when we need to be at our best.”
One of the difference makers is Makana Quia-Estanique, who hurled 2 1/3 innings in relief. The staff ace struck out three and did not allow a run or hit as he collected the save in a rare relief appearance. He put out the fire in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded.
“I was a little bit nervous, but I just wanted to play for my team and throw strikes,” the junior said. “It feels good. I think we can win the OIA and, hopefully, do good at states.”