Nistal’s versatility sparks the Mules

Leilehua celebrated a 10-5 win over Maryknoll on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals of the DataHouse/HHSAA State Softball Championships. Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

She can pitch. She can hit for average. She can hit for power.

Some nights, Kaena Nistal does all three. Here’s how her list of plate appearances transpired on Wednesday night when Leilehua met Maryknoll in the quarterfinal round of the DataHouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships.

>> Walk
>> Three-run home run
>> Walk
>> Two-run single
>> Walk

Toss in two perfect innings of relief and the Mules’ 10-5 win over the ILH champion Spartans may have been the most impressive thus for for any program in the tourney.

“It feels good. It feels good because we’re a really strong team and we work on our hitting. We’re very confident in ourselves and we’ve got each other’s backs,” Nistal said.

Going up against a “fireballer” like Maryknoll ace Kahilu McNicoll, as Leilehua coach Wendell Au describers her, required preparation. A plan. Au wanted discipline from his potent, powerful lineup of hitters. He got it, and without losing the usual clout the Mules have. Leadoff hitter Brandi Leong homered to start the game. Nistal’s tater gave her team a 5-0 lead in the top of the second, which turned out to be crucial when Maryknoll scored four times in the bottom of the inning.

The chess match was on, full scale, for Nistal.

“It was a fastball on the inside. In my head, I was telling myself I have to go for the inside,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without my team.”

Au and his staff have the luxury of pitching depth. When Kamryn Kamakaiwi departed after 1 1/3 innings, Alyssa Abe filled in for 3 2/3 solid innings to get the win. The Mules turned to Nistal, who pitched much more last season, and she brought efficiency: fly out, fly out, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, fly out. Right through the heart of Maryknoll’s talented lineup.

“I wasn’t expecting to pitch. I was ready to hit and I was ready to score for my team,” she said. “Since the beginning of the game, our coaches always tell our pitchers to stay hot, stay warm because we always need to have each other’s backs.”

As a designated player, she was in the dugout most of the first five innings. Getting warmed up adequately for the biggest pitching stint of her prep career, it’s astounding, really.

“It’s just, you can’t think about yourself in that time. You have to think about your team. You have to make every pitch count,” Nistal said. “And know that your team is going to back you up.”

Leilehua is in the semifinal round for the first time since 2014.
>> 2017, lost in opening round to Leilehua, 6-5 (8 inn.)
>> 2016, lost in quarterfinals to Kapolei, 5-0
>> 2015, lost in opening round to Campbell, 6-1
>> 2014, lost in semifinals to Campbell, 10-0.

Maryknoll was aiming to make its first semifinal appearance since ’15.
>> 2017, lost in quarterfinals to Campbell, 11-2
>> 2016, did not qualify for states
>> 2015, lost in semifinals to Mililani, 3-2
>> 2014, lost in quarterfinals to Mililani, 3-2


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