The first time Leilehua and Waianae met during the regular season, the host Seariders rallied for a key 6-4 win.
This time, in their second meeting during OIA West play, they stuck with a similar blueprint. It was not, however, exactly the same, and No. 10 Leilehua won its fourth game in a row, blasting four home runs in an 8-1 victory on Saturday morning at sunny Kaala Elementary School field.
Leilehua is now 6-3 in the OIA West, still in third place, and closing the gap with second-place Waianae (6-2). With Campbell (8-0) out to a significant lead, the battle for second and a first-round bye in the league playoffs is entering prime time.
“Experience-wise, this division is super, super tough. Everybody has pretty much the same experience coaching, pitching. It’s just a matter of that one inning. It’s a matter of everybody doing their job as an individual and playing together as a team. That’s the bottom line,” Leilehua coach Wendell Au said.
That one inning today was the bottom of the fourth, when Leilehua exploded for five runs against Waianae’s second pitcher, Alohilani Napalapalai. She replaced Mya Keliiwaiwai‘ole, who hurled three scoreless innings, allowing two hits with one strikeout and no walks. Keliiwaiwai‘ole went five innings, allowing three runs and eight hits, in the first OIA West meeting with Leilehua back on Mar. 5, when the Seariders won at home.
The freshman’s riser was a factor today, just enough to keep Leilehua’s bashers slightly off target. This time around, Leilehua was 2-for-11 against Keliiwaiwai‘ole. Napalapalai, a fireballing sophomore, gave up eight runs on 12 hits in four innings. The Mules batted 11-for-19 against the right-hander, including 7-for-9 in the fourth inning, when the third out came on a putout of Gianna Araki at third base.
“We’ve faced them, man, this has got to be our seventh meeting since preseason,” Au noted. “They got smart because the first time they defeated us was that same exact rotation. I commend them because instead of trying to force Alohilani, you give us a little look, see if you can get two innings out of their freshman pitcher and come back with your ace. Any given day, our girls just so happen had their timing down.”
Leilehua did not have a home run in the first meeting with Waianae. Today, the Mules pounded four homers, including two by third baseman Kiana Domingo. Shortstop Jaclyn Kepa‘a and Araki also homered.
“I was looking for a fastball. It was middle-in,” Domingo said of the first homer. “I’ve been working harder at practice. Base hits, situational hitting.”
Another difference today was Napalapalai with the bat. She hit a key home run in Waianae’s win three weeks ago. This time, she did not have a plate appearance. Waianae also had four errors in the rematch after going error-free in the home win against the Mules three weeks ago.
“We have a lot of changes we can make,” Seariders coach Robert Kalaola said. “We have good depth, girls who can play different positions, so we can make changes and the girls will be out there working hard. One game at a time.”
Maybe it’s a matter of being more battle tested for Leilehua, the defending state champion. The Mules didn’t commit an error today. Experience was clearly on the side of Leilehua ace Alyssa Abe. The senior went the distance, allowing one run on five hits. She fanned five and walked four. The visitors got runners in scoring position just twice, in the second and seventh innings.
“I asked her to trust her gut feel. She’s very smart, so if you give her instruction, it’s black and white, so I said if a certain pitch is in the wheelhouse of somebody, take it out. Just as long as it’s in the general location, don’t drastically change it,” Au said. “Once she has that comfortable feel, it takes her game to another level. She’s not a big strikeout pitcher, but I think she can be if she allows her sixth sense to kick in.”
Abe needed a few innings to figure out her approach.
“I was a little bit nervous. They’ve seen me a lot, I’ve got to switch it up, I’ve got to make things happen. But it’s not working, so I’ve got to do what I do best,” Abe said. “I just had to focus more on keeping my pitch the way I pitch. I’ve been trying some new things up. With my curve ball, I have some different spins on it. One of them wasn’t being called (a strike), so I had to switch it up.”
Getting settled in as a unit made a difference, as well.
“I think it’s my team, we were just nervous, but as my team was, ‘We’ve got this,’ then I felt like I’m getting adrenaline,” Abe said. “Experience means a lot. If you know the game, you can do something without thinking about it. If you’re not as experienced, you have to think about it a little bit more instead of making difference-making plays.”
For Waianae, carrying a No. 2 ranking matters less than positioning in the wild West, where first-place Campbell is also the No. 1 team in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. At least one Searider was in tears after the loss.
“They’re competitive, and when you’re that competitive, you become really emotional,” Kalaola said. “I like that. It’ll drive them more to improve. Monday will be very interesting. They’re going to build on what they have to work on, and we as coaches will build on it, too.”
It’s almost a coach’s perfect scenario for practice, going back to work on all fundamentals from fielding to throwing to hitting. Against Abe, there were 15 outs off Waianae’s bats. Twelve of them were fly balls or pop-ups. Another four swings were long, pulled foul balls down the left-field line.
“Long, foul home runs,” Kalaola said. “That’s the adjustment that we’ll have to make.”
Leilehua, in their all-black uniforms, was all business after the game.
“We just take it game by game and control what we can,” Domingo said. “Don’t look for big innings. Just look for base hits and keep working. I don’t really experience outshines talent and teamwork. I feel like teamwork is more important and works better than experience.”
Leilehua will host Aiea on Thursday. Waianae will visit Campbell on Thursday, then meets Mililani on Saturday at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
At Kaala Elementary School
Waianae (6-2) 010 000 0 — 1 7 4
Leilehua (6-3) 000 512 x — 8 13 0
Mya Keliiwaiwai‘ole, Alohilani Napalapalai (4) and Kailua Coyaso-Gates. Alyssa Abe and Gianna Araki. W—Abe. L—Napalapalai.
Leading hitters—Waianae: Kailah Coyaso-Gates 1-3, RBI; Journey Rodrigues 1-2, 2B, BB; Mikayla Simpson 1-3, 2B. Leilehua: Araki 2-4, HR, RBI, run; Kiana Domingo 2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBIs, 2 runs, BB; Torie Au 1-3, run, 3B; Jaclyn Kepa‘a 2-3, 2 RBIs, run, HR; Mikayla Pinera 3-3, 2 runs, 2B, SB.