For Aiea, practice did indeed make perfect.
In building a state title contender, Na Alii’s workouts often exceeded coach Alan Higuchi’s practice plans.
“This team, this year, they seemed to enjoy practices,” Higuchi said. “Usually my practices last 2, 2 1/2 hours. But the girls just enjoyed their time at the park. I’d look at my watch and go, ‘whoa, 3 1/2 hours went by.’ But they wanted to be there. … Credit goes to them that they wanted to put in the work.”
The hours Na Alii invested on the practice field paid off in a 15-0 season and a Division II state championship.
Two years after falling short in the title game, Aiea powered to the lead in Saturday’s D-II final of the DataHouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships on solo home runs from sophomore Trinity Atuatasi and senior Poamai Tuli and held off a Saint Francis rally in a 4-3 win at at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Along with sending a blast out to right-center in the third inning, Tuli struck out four and earned her third victory of the state tournament. After Saint Francis put the tying run on first with one out in the bottom of the seventh Aiea shortstop Chantelle Shimabukuro turned a game-ending double play to secure the title and the perfect season.
“We know that hard work pays of and you can see what just happened,” Shimabukuro said.
Tuli got the start against Nanakuli in the 2015 final and gave up three runs in 2 2/3 innings. Even so, Na Alii led 5-3 through 5 1/2 innings before the Golden Hawks rallied for two runs in the sixth and won it in the seventh.
Aiea was knocked out of contention in the quarterfinals on Maui last year, then rolled to the OIA D-II title this season before going 3-0 in the state tournament to earn the program’s first championship.
Higuchi said the past experiences helped this year’s team “deal with the pressures of the game, the expectations of the game.”
“Playing in an awesome facility like this, its something they can get adjusted to knowing they’ve done it before,” he said.
Saint Francis scored the game’s first run when Shimabukuro dropped a line drive with two out in the bottom of the first inning. But Aiea seized the momentum with solo homers by Atuatasi in the top of the second and Tuli’s shot to right center in the third.
The Saints manufactured the tying run in the bottom of the third but Aiea’s patience pushed them ahead in the fourth.
Jeanah Padasdao reached base on a wide throw to first and Na Alii drew three consecutive walks to force Padasdao across the plate with the go-ahead run. An error on Venetia Ueoka’s grounder allowed Atuatasi to score and Aiea took a 4-2 lead.
The Saints closed to within a run in the sixth when Sammie Ofoia doubled to left-center, advanced on a bunt and scored on a passed ball.
Tuli walked Kamaile Perreira with one out in the seventh but Shimabukuro snagged a ground ball up the middle, stepped on second and fired to first to end the game.
“To hang on to the lead is a difficult thing,” Higuchi said. ”I’ve been long around enough to know nothing comes easy, especially in the last inning. It’s always the toughest inning.”
This time, Na Alii made the play they needed to protect the lead, giving the returnees a title to defend next season.