Showing that it’s not content with an ILH regular season title and the comfort of an automatic state berth, Mid-Pacific rode the arm of Shion Matsushita to a 3-1 first round victory over Saint Louis on Monday at Damon Field.
The Owls’ ace pitched a complete game gem and only needed an astounding 55 pitches to get the job done. He was also buoyed by an impeccable defense led by shortstop Wyatt Young, who often made challenging plays look routine.
“We hit the ball hard,” Saint Louis coach George Gusman said. “Wyatt was outstanding at shortstop today … We hit right at him, he makes solid plays. There’s not much you can do there.”
Matsushita was perfect after the first three frames, tossing 21 pitches to get through the Saint Louis lineup. With his unique sidearm delivery, the senior finished with two strikeouts, relying on his defense behind him to get outs.
“I think if my defense didn’t make those plays then I don’t know if I would’ve went the whole game,” Matsushita said. “Some of them surprised me, I thought some of those would be hits. But they got my back. That’s how we won the game.”
In the fourth inning, Saint Louis third baseman Hunter Peneueta got his team’s first hit with a solo home run to center field, ending Matsushita’s bid for a perfect game after 3 2/3 innings.
Kyle Layugan, Matsushita’s battery mate, drove in all three runs for Mid-Pacific, including a two-run double in the fifth inning that broke the 1-1 tie and gave the Owls the lead for good.
Matsushita shut the door in the final two innings, finishing with two strikeouts and four hits.
“He threw a lot of strikes and they were really aggressive. They had a lot of first pitch swings. I guess they wanted to make sure that they got a good swing off of him,” Mid-Pacific coach Dunn Muramaru said. “All the balls went to our guys. Wyatt played really well at short. I think (second baseman Hunter Hirayama) played really well too. That one blip where (Peneueta) hit the home run, he ran into that ball. But he pitched well. A lot of first-pitch strikes. What can you say? He gives up one run, we should win.”
The game was a return from a 10-day hiatus for the Owls. The last time they played was also against the Crusaders at home, and Matsushita was the starter for that one as well. He gave up six runs in one inning of work, taking the loss in a 9-6 victory for the Crusaders.
Muramaru wasn’t the biggest fan of his team getting such a big break between games, but he praised his team afterwards for their work ethic in the field and weight room during the time off. For Matsushita, it was an opportunity to recharge.
“I was kind of tired from the season, pitching a lot,” Matsushita said. “I rested mostly and started throwing a couple of days ago. I felt good, just wanted to keep throwing those fastballs.”
Over the years, Muramaru has empowered his catchers to call games from behind the plate whereas other high school and college teams solely follow orders from their coaches. Layugan’s approach on Monday was straightforward.
“While we were warming up, we would just tell him ‘just throw it in there, you got some of the best infielders in the state, just trust them,’” Layugan said. “If they hit the ball, so what? We practice so much and so hard and you just gotta trust your infielders, and so I think that just gave him the confidence to not give a rip about anything, just keep throwing it in there.”
Young, who has only made two errors all season, also credited Layugan for help on where to position himself at times.
“It was just taking each ground ball at a time and my catcher did a really good job moving me around and showing me where to go for certain hitters,” Young said. “He saw the scouting report so it was pretty good having him behind home plate.”
With the win, the Owls will host ‘Iolani in the winner’s bracket matchup today at 3:30. Saint Louis gets Maryknoll at 3:30 at Goeas Field in an elimination game.
“We just trying to take each game one step at a time, one game at a time,” Young said. “We already forgot about this game and we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”