Maryknoll softball coach John Uekawa insisted the Spartans’ path to a second straight ILH championship wasn’t similar to the route they followed last year.
“It’s not similar,” Uekawa said. “it’s exactly (the same).”
Other than a change of venue for the championship game, the Spartans indeed took the long road to the title the last two seasons.
They captured the program’s first league crown with a win at Kamehameha a year ago. This time, Maryknoll traveled just across Wilder Ave. and pulled out an 8-7 win over Punahou on Thursday to retain the title.
“(Last year’s run) just really taught us not to give up and to stay together as a team and focus on peaking at the right point,” said Maryknoll senior Nohea Hee, who drove in the go-ahead run with a double in the top of the seventh to cap a four-RBI performance.
The Spartans finished the regular season at 7-5 and won a playoff with Kamehameha for second place heading into the ILH tournament. They advanced with a dramatic comeback in a rematch with the Warriors and won the tournament with a 15-2 rout of ‘Iolani on Tuesday, clinched a state tournament berth in the process.
Punahou puts the tying run on with 2 out, but Maryknoll closes out an 8-7 win to capture the ILH DI softball championship. Both teams will be in the state tournament. @HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/b9RzDyjA95
— Jason Kaneshiro (@jasonkaneshiro) May 4, 2018
The tournament win set up a meeting with Punahou, the regular-season champion, for the overall title at the Buffanblu’s field.
Punahou jumped ahead in the first inning on D’Asha Saiki’s RBI double to left field and Janell Sato’s sacrifice fly. Maryknoll answered with a three-run second with Hee giving the Spartans the lead with a two-run single.
Maryknoll scratched out four runs in the top of the sixth, aided by five walks, with Liliana Thomas delivering her second RBI double of the game.
Maryknoll senior Kahilu McNicoll held Punahou to one hit through 5 1/3 innings before giving up a walk, a single and a walk to load the bases. Kawai Mielke drilled a two-run double to the left-center gap and Ashanti Martinez followed with a homer to left field to tie it up.
“I love our lineup because we’ve got those kinds of hitters,” Punahou coach David “Boy” Eldridge said. “Ashanti’s first couple of at-bats weren’t really that good. … When we had girls on base then we knew Ashanti had the kind of power that could take it out and we took a chance and she came through.”
Freshman Aloha Akaka relieved McNicoll and Bri Alejo then hit a grounder that Thomas bobbled near the first base bag. She scrambled to recover the ball and touch the bag and Alejo was ruled out on the play, drawing a prolonged argument from Eldredge.
Eldredge said he filed a protest when he was told Thomas had her hand on top of the ball while the ball was on the ground.
“My understanding is the ground cannot create possession,” Eldridge said.
“If (the protest) doesn’t go through then obviously congratulations to Maryknoll for being champions and we’ll go play on Tuesday. If it does go through maybe we’ll pick up where we left off.”
If the protest is upheld the game would resume in the sixth with Alejo on first. For his part, Uekawa left the field confident the result would stand.
“She had control of the ball, that’s the most important thing,” Uekawa said.
Akaka maintained the tie going into the seventh and Mahalo Akaka drew a leadoff walk. After a flyout, Uekawa gave Aloha Akaka the bunt sign to move Mahalo into scoring position for Hee, although with two outs.
“I just had a real strong feeling Nohea would pull through,” Uekawa said.
She did indeed, taking the next pitch to the opposite field for a double to drive in the go-ahead run. After the game, Uekawa was effusive in his praise of the senior center fielder and leadoff hitter who has signed with Menlo.
“She’s the MVP of the league,” he said. “If she isn’t, it’s a crime.”
— Jason Kaneshiro (@jasonkaneshiro) May 4, 2018
Aloha Akaka quickly got the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Saiki extended the game by reaching first on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike to bring up cleanup hitter Bailey Akimseu. Akaka got Akimseu to wave at the first two pitches then induced a grounder to shortstop Kanoe Tanigawa, who flipped to Logan Carlos at second for the final out.
“I can depend on Aloha to come in and throw strikes,” Uekawa said. “To face D’Asha and then face Akimseu, it’s a testament to her. They’re probably two of the most feared players in the ILH.”
Maryknoll was awarded the second seed in the Division I bracket of next week’s DataHouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships and will have a bye in the first round. OIA champion Campbell will be on the opposite side of the bracket as the top seed.
As the ILH runner up, Punahou is scheduled to face Kapolei in the first round on Tuesday at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
“We said this is the kind of games we expect to play if we’re going to go for a title,” Eldridge said. “We know the competition ahead of us is going to be just like this.”
UPDATE: Eldridge said Friday the protest had been denied.