Building practically from scratch has a way of thickening the skin of coaches, players and supporters.
Coach John Uekawa has that thick skin, but make no mistake, he isn’t numb to the ups and downs of his young Maryknoll softball team either. With just one senior on the roster, after years of literally building a program — the facility at Sand Island State Park is a thing of beauty and a penultimate example of giving, laborious hands — the Lady Spartans have been on a wild ride.
After an 11-4 loss at Punahou to begin the ILH season, Maryknoll knocked off St. Francis (8-7), Kamehameha (14-4), Pac-Five (11-1) and Mid-Pacific (6-5). Could a lineup with just one true substitute player do something magical in the gauntlet of ILH competition?
That question was answered in the past four days. ‘Iolani (4-2), St. Francis (7-6) and Punahou (13-9) sent the Spartans tumbling back down to earth. At 4-4, they are both title contender and slightly heartbroken Cinderellas. They’re a half-game behind Punahou, which got its ace pitcher (Bailey Akimseu) back after a college trip. The road is uphill, no doubt.
“We’re hanging in there,” Uekawa said after the loss to Punahou on Saturday.
His third baseman, Sydney Kamakaiwi, took a shot to the forehead on a line drive. She’s OK now, diagnosed to be concussion-free at the hospital, but for 2 hours and 48 minutes, Uekawa’s team played without a remaining substitute. It’s a heck of a predicament for a program that turned around and became a title contender. But it looks a lot like Konawaena’s girls basketball program in this sense: Winning games doesn’t guarantee great turnout and depth. Konawaena has had season with just three reserves as some of the players in feeder programs opted to play soccer or other sports.
However, if this group sticks together, there is much promise ahead. They have a gritty pitcher in Maia McNicoll, and even with the lack of depth, they have a solid core of starters from 1 to 9. Kamalei Labasan socked a triple, scored twice and finished 2-for-5 against Punahou. Nohea Hee went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk, and second-baseman Logan Carlos blasted a solo home run, scored twice and walked twice. The eye is there for Maryknoll’s patient hitters, but they stranded seven base runners.
“It’s difficult being young going against experienced teams, but we’re learning to lose to win,” Uekawa said.
The regular-season title is not out of reach mathematically for Maryknoll, but their best shot at a state-tournament berth will likely come in the ILH playoffs.
“Punahou had timely hits and we didn’t. Give them a lot of credit,” Uekawa said.
The Spartans played error-free defense and drew seven walks at the plate. They’re doing the important things well, the little things that allow a team to compete at the highest level.
The remaining regular-season schedule will give them a chance to inch higher for a better seeding in the playoffs. The top two teams will draw a first-round bye, with the No. 3 pitted against No. 6, and 4 versus 5. Right now, that would mean byes for Kamehameha (5-1-1) and ‘Iolani (5-1-1), with Punahou (4-3) against Mid-Pacific (0-6) and Maryknoll against Pac-Five (1-6).
With Pac-Five (Apr. 5), Mid-Pacific (Apr. 8), ‘Iolani (Apr. 12) and Kamehameha (Apr. 15) remaining on the slate, it would require a run-the-table performance and near-complete collapses by Kamehameha and ‘Iolani to give Maryknoll a shot at the regular-season title. The Spartans are at home (Sand Island) against Pac-Five and ‘Iolani.
“We’ve got to cut down on the walks,” Uekawa said of his pitching staff. “We need to do that and have better decision-making.”