It starts with the coaches.
On one side, you have Corey Ishigo. On the other, it’s Rory Pico.
Once, they were gritty second basemen for the University of Hawaii baseball team. Now, they’re gritty, no-nonsense coaches.
To put it more clearly, they are baseball men through and through, and their players are true reflections of what they bring to the table … and diamond.
Those coaches had their teams ready on Saturday in the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship game and what ensued was a battle royale. A classic, actually, with Ishigo’s Kailua Surfriders nudging past Pico’s Campbell Sabers 6-5 in eight innings.
“That was a fistfight all the way until the end,” said Campbell’s Markus Ramos, a pitcher/left fielder wearing black and orange in the Pico camp.
Added Kailua’s Kalua Neves, the designated hitter wearing a bright white uniform with blue trim in Ishigo’s dugout: “This was the most emotional game we’ve ever been through.”
And the tension was palpable at Les Murakami Stadium, especially after Campbell (14-1) tied up what had been a back-and-forth game at 5-all in the top of the fifth.
Every batter the rest of the way came to the plate with a chance to make a difference. The Surfriders (13-2) left two runners on in the bottom of the fifth, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
The Sabers left one on in the sixth and then could not score with the bases loaded in the eighth.
It all came down to the bottom of the eighth. Stone Parker, one of the pitchers in Kailua’s rotation, came up to pinch hit for Dayne Ishigo, the coach’s son. He hit a hard grounder that was headed just to the left of second base and Sabers shortstop Ikaika Ganancial sprinted over and a hot bounce made him go a half-step deeper than he wanted. Desperately trying to make a play, he threw it wide and Parker went to second — and eventually scored the winning run.
After the game, Ganancial, a gutsy and spirited solid-gloved infielder and a make-it-happen kind of guy, said he took it on the wrong hop and probably should have held on to the ball instead of throwing.
“We’ve still got states,” he said. “(That play) is not going to determine who I am. Me and my boys will be back.”
Ganancial brought up that play to his teammates afterward, according to Ramos.
“He told us that he is going to work on that and not make a play like that again and that he was going to come back from that. Nobody was mad at him. The coaches weren’t mad at him. That’s how hard that play was to make.”
Campbell reliever Dylan Florentin intentionally walked Dakota Kadooka (who had an RBI single and three stolen bases in the game and who covers a ton of ground in center field) to set up a force situation.
The next batter, Matthew Kaleiohi hit a low pop-up to the left of the mound that Florentin had to dive for to make the first out. Cody Riturban, one of those endlessly steady players, drilled a single to center, and at first glance, it appeared Parker may round third, but he was held up.
The chances of the next batter, Joey Cantillo, failing were slim to none. Or as Neves joked with a reporter after the game: There was a “100 percent” chance he was going to pull through.
It’s a high-percentage situation, no matter who is at the plate: bases loaded and one out. Cantillo just happens to be the Surfriders’ third batter in the order and he immediately sent a high fly ball to center, deep enough for Parker to tag and come home easily.
Surfriders catcher Jalen Ah Yat went 4-for-4 in the game, and Neves smashed a three-run triple for an early 3-1 lead.
Campbell’s Nick Sampson, who started the game on the mound, had a 3-for-4 night at the plate.
It was Kailua’s eighth OIA title with Ishigo as coach.
“They’re (the championships) all different in their own ways,” he said. “This was a tough one. The boys have believed in the process for four years. They worked extremely hard. They listen. They care. They played super hard.”
You can bet both coaches and their teams will be trying to get to that promised land of a Division I state championship, and the field will be full with 10 other teams trying to do the same. It’s been 16 years since the Surfriders won it all under Ishigo in 2001. The Sabers got it done just two years ago under Pico.
Both teams appear to have the pieces in place. Solid lineups — 1 to 9 — with plenty of pitching and defensive capability.
Kailua will work on keeping their roll going into the states (April 26-29). Campbell will see if this loss has taught them something.
“We’ll see how they come back — how they work, what kind of fire they have,” Pico said. “These guys are competitors and I’m sure this will make them hungry and better.”