Maryknoll power surge sparks 14-3 TKO win over Punahou

The Maryknoll Spartans were up to the challenge and more in a 14-3 win over Punahou on Saturday. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser Apr. 3, 2021).

On paper, the gauntlet continues in Interscholastic League of Honolulu softball.

The OIA West has been a merciless chopping block in the past decade from top to bottom. The ILH has been doing elite-level softball for an even longer time. After Maryknoll’s 14-3 TKO runaway over win Punahou on Saturday, the Spartans are possibly the league’s title favorite.

Ua Nakoa-Chung went the distance in the regular-season opener, containing a potent Buffanblu lineup on its home field. The sophomore allowed eight hits, struck out six and walked three for a complete-game win. She painted the corners at times, walked a few batters with first base open and rebounded from back-to-back homers by Punahou sluggers Liana Heshiki and Asia Lee in the third inning.

“My screws were working. My curves and some of my risers. My curve and my screw are definitely my go-to pitches,” Nakoa-Chung said. “Even if it was windy, I try not to think about it. Also, the mound, I try not to put that in the way although it was really crooked and downhill. I try not to think of it. I was just hitting the glove and hitting my spots, and if they hit it they hit. Overall, I think I did good today.”

She got plenty of help from a lineup of mostly underclassmen. Freshman Jennalyn Sniffen bashed a pair of two-run homers off Punahou’s crafty young hurlers. Coach John Uekawa considers this one of his quieter rosters.

“She reminds me of Gov. (George) Ariyoshi. Very silent, but effective. You hear nothing out of her, and she just does her job. If she wouldn’t be hitting home runs, you never have known that she would be there,” he said. “She made a good double play defensively, touched third and made a play to first.

Shortstop Nellie McEnroe-Marinas was back at her spot after recovering from injury. She went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBIs and three runs scored.

Catcher Liliana Thomas, their senior catcher, was a force in the batter’s box and behind the plate. She finished 2-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored. She already looks primed for college life at Arizona State. With the cancellation of the 2020 softball season, the past year has been strange and murky sometimes. Difficult to summarize in terms of actual time and experience. It has been two years since Maryknoll and its competitors had a chance to play a full season. All of a sudden, Thomas, once the young phenom as a freshman and sophomore, is already a senior.

“I think my teammates are awesome. We have one of the strongest teams in the state. I owe a lot to them. They work hard and they bust their butts to go out and leave everything on the field,” Thomas said.

Thomas is one of the elite softball players who spend summers on the West Coast playing 30 to 40 games in a month with other top prospects. It’s a life for softball lifers only. She will do another tour of duty in the tournament trenches this summer.

“We’ve all been doing it since we were young, so we’ve all just used to it,” Thomas said. “Everyone’s working for the same goal, which is a college scholarship.”

Sniffen was a highly-touted player coming into high school. Maryknoll’s depth at third base means she gets to try new positions.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play. It’s the first game on varsity, so just contact,” she said. “I was just looking for strikes and whatever I could get. She (Punahou pitcher Justice Tiberi) was throwing a lot of curve balls, too.”

She went 3-for-4 with five RBIs and four runs scored. The wind was gusty at times, often blowing from right to left, sometimes blowing in toward home plate, or the opposite way.

“The wind worked in my favor,” Sniffen said.

So far, Sniffen added, she hasn’t felt like a freshman.

“My teammates, they’re the best. They treat me like any of their teammates, not like being a freshman is different,” she said.

Nakoa-Chung worked in rhythm with her catcher, Thomas.

“You know, the thing about her is, it’s about self-confidence. From last year to this year, she gained so much more confidence. Now she’s putting it together in a game like this,” Uekawa said. “There’s going to be closer and tighter games. She’s going to pull it out. You just see that she’s a gamer. Very quiet, too. Our team is very quiet.”

Though preseason was much shorter this season due to the pandemic, Nakoa-Chung has gotten her fair share of battles against the Maryknoll lineup at practice.

“They’re all good hitters. It’s definitely not easy pitching against all of them. It’s a bunch of big batters,” she said. “We kind of go live once or twice every week to get our reps in and also for them to see a live pitcher.”

Maryknoll will get two practice days before meeting a dangerous Mid-Pacific squad on Wednesday.

“With Coach John, we’re definitely going to go 100. He usually gives us the day before a game, it’s a little slower so we can get ready for game day. So we’re going to go 100 percent every day and just get ready for the next game,” Nakoa-Chung said.

McEnroe-Marinas is glad to be healthy and on the diamond.

“We just have to be focused. I think we’ll do fine,” she said. “I was just happy to be playing because, I mean, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a season or not. Us having a season now, we’re all excited.”

The interesting aspect of Maryknoll’s plate appearances is that for all the power they have, there are far more line drives than fly balls.

“The key factor is, we pride ourselves on not being individualistic. If somebody hits something, that doesn’t mean you have to duplicate the hit. I’m trying to instill that because we want to score runs in bunches, and in order to do that, we’ve got to get people on base,” Uekawa noted.

The Spartans will stay basic as the season unfolds.

“We’re going to win on good pitching and great defense,” Uekawa added. “The hitting will come and it just so happens our girls can hit.”

At Punahou
Maryknoll (1-0) 304 220 — 14 13 0
Punahou (0-2) 300 000 — 3 8 4
Game ends after sixth inning, 10-run mercy rule.
Ua Nakoa-Chung and Liliana Thomas. Justice Tiberi and Liana Heshiki. W—Nakoa-Chung. L—Tiberi.
Leading hitters—Maryknoll: Nellie McEnroe-Marinas 4-5, HR, 4 RBIs, 3 runs; Liliana Thomas 2-5, two doubles, run; Nakoa-Chung 2-3, run; Logan-Ray Gaspar 2-3, double, 2 RBIs, run; Jennalyn Sniffen 3-4, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, 4 runs.


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