It was all sunshine for Leilehua softball on Monday.
Career days from two players — senior pitcher Kaena Nistal and shortstop Jacelyn “Lovey” Kepa‘a — carried the No. 2 Mules to a 12-0 five-inning rout of No. 9 Pearl City at the Chargers’ field. The game was made up from a rainout.
All considered, it was an impressive showing from Leilehua (8-3), which suffered a 6-5 comeback defeat to its top-ranked rival, Campbell (9-3), last week. Now the Mules play at Mililani (5-5) Tuesday in another rain make-up game, with a first-round bye theirs for the taking if they can win on consecutive days. (Mililani upset them 5-3 on March 10, so this is not a given by any means.)
But if Monday was any indication, the Mules’ focus is now razor-sharp.
Nistal, a third arm for coach Wendell Au, was masterful in keeping Kamryn Kamakaiwi and Alyssa Abe fresh for Tuesday. She threw a no-hitter, walking three and striking out two, in a performance Au called “awesome.”
“Hat’s off to the pitchers, they bring a lot to the team,” Au said. “I’ve been blessed with three good pitchers. … That’s something special for our team.”
Nistal thanked her defense for communicating to her throughout, and even added a two-RBI single in the first, one of her team’s eight hits.
“It really helped, because we can’t win a game without hitting. That really helps out pitchers,” she said.
It was Leilehua’s first shutout and widest margin of victory in OIA West play. (Not including, obviously, two wins over Nanakuli via forfeit.)
Au was most pleased that his team played error-free ball.
“If you look at all our losses, they all came off of errors. I believe in the Campbell game we had four errors, two in the last inning. So, I’m trying to paint a picture for these girls … errors can lead to runs, and runs can end up losing you the game if you’re not hitting enough.”
Kapa‘a took care of that part. Leilehua’s No. 8 hitter followed up Nistal’s two-run single in the first with one of her own, then blasted a three-run homer to right-center in the third.
“My timing was there, because I’ve been working on my hitting in (my) off time. Going to cages, practices,” said Kapa‘a, who went 2-for-3. I just think it’s the fact I got all the extra reps and been working.”
On her game-breaking homer, she said, “I just like the outside, so, I just went with it and it flew.”
Pearl City might have a game to play vs. Mililani on Thursday, depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s Mililani-Leilehua game for seeding purposes. If Mililani wins, the Trojans and the Chargers play.
While the playoff forecast is sunny for Leilehua, it is overcast for Pearl City (6-5), which has lost three of four.
Chargers coach Chad Obara, while tipping his cap to Nistal for the best game he’d seen her throw, knows his group needs to improve in a couple of areas specifically come playoff time.
“She was lights-out today,” Obara said. “Good pitching will always beat good hitting. That’s how it goes. She had a good day.”
In contrast, he pulled his freshman starter, Jo-Zayah Iriarte, after she walked her first batter then beaned the next. But Maiyah Faleafine-Lesu was nearly as erratic and she lasted only until the fourth. Iriarte returned for a spell, only to have senior Alexas Presto-Ahsing finish the job.
“Today exposed a little bit of what we’ve been emphasizing,” Obara said. “We’ve noticed it’s been falling apart, and that’s the team concept. That’s what our postgame talk was mainly about. So hopefully, some people will understand where we’re coming from and this team will bond again. This is not the way we want to go heading into the postseason. But (today) showed us some things we need to address, we’re going to address them and hopefully we’ll be ready for the postseason.”