WAILUKU — On Day 1, it was a sluggers paradise at normally power-free Iron Maehara Stadium.
Big bashers from Kamehameha and Saint Louis led the power surge as teams combined for a whopping six home runs. The record for HRs in an entire state tourney at Iron Maehara was six, which was eclipsed with one more HR today, giving the 2019 state tournament seven here.
The mark for taters at any site is 12, achieved at Aloha Stadium in 1987.
And yet, for all that clout, including today’s monster shot by Waiakea slugger Kalai Rosario, it is the singles-hitting, quality-pitching, defensive vacuum teams that have advanced to the semifinals of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Baseball State Championships.
Not that the visuals of seeing a powerful team like Waiakea, with Rosario and Safea Mauai muscling baseballs across the grass and fences of Iron Maehara. The Warriors made it a spectacle with a first-inning home run, and then back-to-back doubles by the two sluggers in the third. It seemed like defending champion Baldwin was out of its element.
But the tide changed. Pitcher Kaipo Haole made key adjustments and finished with nine strikeouts and just two walks over 6 1/3 innings. The Bears chipped away patiently. By game’s end, Coach Shane Dudoit’s Bears had an 8-5 win with his prints all over it. The Bears were error-free while Waiakea committed five miscues.
“Five errors, that’s the game,” Warriors coach Eric Kurosawa said. “We thought five runs would be the number we needed, but we must’ve given up three or four unearned runs. And we still had a chance.”
Haole went 6 1/3 innings after a rough first inning when Waiakea scored three runs. Right fielder Baba Varner closed the deal. It was never really a done deal, though.
Varner replaced Haole and saw the No. 1 hitter in Waiakea’s lineup, Stone Miyao, launch a rocket to right field — where almost nobody clears the fence — that landed on the fence for a double. Varner then used all his skill and guile to get Rosario to fly out, his only out of the game. Then Varner struck out the dangerous Mauai.
It had been 12 days since Baldwin last played a game.
“We still throw in the ‘pen and stuff,” Haole said. “First inning, they’re just whacking bombs. Throughout the game, I had to change up my pitches a little bit. Locations and speed, both.”
Haole went to his fastball outside and kept his curveball low after the first inning.
“Waiakea came out to hit,” he said.
Varner had been prepped by his coaches that he would see action on the mound. He spent the first six-plus innings in right field.
“During the week, my coach said to be ready to throw. Kaipo told me we had one out,” Varner said.
“And be smart,” Haole said, “against their top three.”
With just eight warmup pitches, Varner made do.
“My curve, slider, fastball, change-up were iffy. My coaches called mostly curves. Fastballs on the paint,” Varner said. “I realized I can’t get behind on the count.”
Rosario’s Ruthian aura was no joke. Yet, Varner challenged him with curves until the slugger got jammed and still sent a fly ball to center. He changed the script with the lefty slugger, Mauai.
“Watching him against Kaipo, he had a hard time with the fastball, so that worked,” Varner said.
The top three of Waiakea’s lineup — Miyao, Rosario and Mauai — combined to hit 7-for-10 with two walks, one home run, three doubles, six RBIs and five runs. The rest of the lineup batted 1-for-16.