Kapolei Charter School makes eventful first appearance in OIA varsity softball

Kapolei Charter softball players watched from the dugout during their first varsity softball game at the school against Waianae. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Kapolei Charter School made a bit of history Saturday, playing its first OIA varsity softball game.

And for two reasons at both ends of the spectrum, it was a memorable game for the school that opened three years ago.

First, the ‘Iwa (Hawaiian frigate bird) held a late lead in the game at Waianae.

Second, despite a solid effort, 17 Kapolei Charter girls went down swinging against the hot pitching of Waianae’s Alohilani Napalapalai in a 4-3 loss.

Had it not been against a pitcher who was hitting all of her spots, the result may have been a historic first win for coach Garrick Asato and the ‘Iwa.

Two girls on the Kapolei Charter roster are juniors who will be part of the school’s first graduating class next year. Both — outfielders Kealiana Chung-Balecha and Shaycelen Akiona — started their high school years at the school and played for Kapolei (girls can play at the public school in their home district if their own charter school does not have a team) a year ago.

Kapolei Charter’s Shaycelen Akiona, one of only two juniors on a team with no seniors, dove to catch a ball in center field against Waianae. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

According to school director Wanda Villareal, Chung-Balecha and Akiona — along with one other girl in their Class of 2021 who is not on the team now — were instrumental in the early stages of the formation of the team.

“We didn’t have enough to make a team then (two years ago),” Villareal said. “And we only had ninth graders.”

Shortstop Daelyn Stephens is another player for the ‘Iwa who has varsity experience. She played for Waianae in 2019, taking advantage of that aforementioned rule.

Previously this school year, Kapolei Charter entered a team in the winter JV season. Now, 14 of those girls are on the varsity.

It’s not an easy school to get in, according to Villareal.

“We only take 50 students per grade and our curriculum is college prep and that is attractive to a lot of parents,” she said.

Asato and his players have a a lot of experience in club softball.

“We’re very excited and fortunate to have this opportunity,” he said.

In the loss to Waianae, the ‘Iwa fought back from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 lead, thanks to four Seariders errors in the top of the fifth.

Waianae tied it in the bottom of the inning and then Napalapalai cranked a solo homer to left-center for what proved to be the winning run in the sixth.

“It feels great,” the ‘Iwa’s Chung-Balecha — who punched out the team’s first hit with a single to right — said about her team’s history-making first game. “We’re starting new and fresh. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but I feel like this season we will come out strong and I’m pretty sure we’ll pull through. It feels pretty good getting that first hit. I think this game will bring us a lot of momentum and it’s going to take the whole team.”

Kapolei Charter’s Kealiana Chung-Balecha recorded the first hit for the ‘Iwa. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Kapolei Charter is playing in the notoriously strong OIA West that includes teams that won Division I state champions in five of the last six seasons — Campbell (2015, ’16 and ’17), Leilehua (’18) and Mililani (’14).

Freshman pitcher Leia Duropan finished with a complete-game eight-hitter in the ‘Iwa’s loss.

“I can show everyone what I have and that I can compete with older girls,” Duropan said. “It will make me better now and for the future. Today, I pitched too many balls and was inconsistent. I know I could have done better.

“We all come from this (West) side and we know what (OIA softball) is like. We know how it feels when everyone watches and we want to do our best to get more people to watch us. We have to work harder than everybody else. We were nervous and needed to calm down a little more and relax and play our game. We knew people and (the media) were going to be here watching.”

Asato, the coach, thought there may have been a few jitters.

“It’s not how we wanted to make history, but I’m really proud of them,” he said. “I always tell them it’s not how you start, but how you finish. We’ll go back to the drawing board and practice to work hard for our next game (at Leilehua on Tuesday).

Kapolei Charter coach Garrick Asato spoke to his team during Saturday’s game against Waianae. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.


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