Campbell. Mililani. Epic.
The Campbell Sabers and Mililani Trojans have a storied rivalry that goes far back on the diamond. Each of the powerhouse baseball programs needed to dig down deep on Friday night in the semifinal round to reach the finals of the OIA playoffs.
For Mililani, it took a two-out bloop single by Waika Fukuda in the bottom of the 11th inning to eke out a hard-earned 4-3 win over Kaiser.
“I told him to go out and battle. He got behind and the pitcher (Landon Shigeta) threw some good pitches, and fortunately, he was able enough of it to get it over the first baseman’s head and it fell in,” Mililani coach Mark Hirayama said. “Like I always say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Fukuda was down 0-2 in the count against Shigeta. The bases were loaded with two outs.
“Somebody had to score and get it done. Both teams are pretty solid, but someone had to come out on top,” said Fukuda, Mililani’s left fielder. “He threw me an outside, low pitch. It was kind of a strike, kind of close. I had to take it that way and do whatever I could to score the run. I just knew. I had a feeling.”
Until Fukuda’s clutch, opposite-field hit, the game had become a stunning battle between the starting third basemen who took the mound for their respective teams.
Vance Oshiro took over for Tanner Moran, who pitched four innings, and Fukuda, who lasted one frame. He permitted just three hits in five shutout innings with six strikeouts and one walk, and was also 2-for-4 at the plate with two runs, two walks and a stolen base.
“Vance was our closer last year and fortunately we didn’t need him as much to close this year. He’s lights-out when he’s up on the mound. He’s not afraid to compete. He throws strikes and gives us a chance,” Hirayama said. “It’s unfortunate that somebody has to fall on the short end. It’s always fun to play a great program. Every year, it’s always a great battle.”
Shigeta was nearly as good, going five innings and allowing just two hits with two strikeouts and five walks. The lone run came at the very end, and even that normally would have been contested.
In that sequence when Fukuda’s looping hit landed in fair ground near the right-field line, pinch runner Kailen Kimata scored easily from third base. Long after the teams left the field, TV replays showed that Kimata never touched home plate, but it was too late for Kaiser to contest the run.
“I heard what they said. We got lucky on that one or else we’d still be playing,” Hirayama said. “We told all the other baserunners, get to the next bag. We had to dig deep in our roster. We had pitchers running. Everybody’s got to be ready to go. You never know what situation we’re going to need somebody, and somebody’s got to step up. This is why you play the game. Leave it all on the field. Hat’s off to Kaiser for playing awesome tonight. We got a little lucky at the end.”
Until then, the near-flawless defense and pitching by each team made extra innings speed by. The possibility of 15 or more innings was real.
“We wouldn’t have had enough pitching,” Hirayama said.
Campbell had just enough pitching to escape with a 6-5 win over Kailua. The Sabers led 6-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Zachary Palipti had already put out one fire, striking out Jalen Ah Yat with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth.
“We decided just to keep it away, keep him off-balance with the off-speed and come back hard with the fastball, away from his power,” Palipti said of the left-handed hitting Ah Yat.
The Sabers and Trojans are tied at No. 5 this week in the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10. While Mililani has Hirayama, their longtime head coach, Campbell’s veteran coach, Rory Pico, is now the athletic director.
“It’s kind of different, but we still got to be sharp to what Campbell is expected to be,” Palipti said. “Tomorrow, we’ll go at ‘em, go at ‘em hard, play our game and do what we’ve got to do.
Campbell last won the OIA title in 2015, their third in a row. The Sabers went on to win the state crown, as well.
The Trojans are the defending OIA champs. Kaiser’s last three losses in the OIA playoffs are all in extra innings.