Kamehameha baseball coach Thomas Perkins has sensed for a while now he’s coaching a special group of kids.
“They might not be the most talented guys out there, but they play well together and they support each other 100 percent,” he said Tuesday. “They’ve bought into the plan that we don’t panic. We play the whole seven innings and we’re not going to stop until (the game) is done.”
The Warriors showed that exact trait against Saint Louis at Ala Wai Community Park, rallying from three down in the bottom of the seventh inning to walk off with a 5-4 victory over the fourth-ranked Crusaders in an ILH second round winner’s bracket game.
The No. 1-ranked team in the state improved to 14-3 overall with a stunning victory over the Crusaders (12-5), who outplayed Kamehameha for six innings.
Despite only getting three hits against Kamehameha starter Hunter Breault and reliever Christian DeJesus, the Crusaders executed flawlessly at the plate using bunts, sacrifices and a couple of Kamehameha errors to their advantage.
They tacked on single runs in the sixth and seventh inning to take a 4-1 lead to the bottom of the seventh, but in those final three outs, Kamehameha showed why its considered the top team in the state and the frontrunner to claim its first ILH baseball championship since 2006.
Two walks and a Francis Gora single loaded the bases with nobody out, forcing Saint Louis to bring in its second reliever in the inning.
An RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly cut the lead to 4-3 with two outs for cleanup hitter Kalamaku Kuewa, who doubled home the only run Kamehameha got off Saint Louis starter Chase Meilleur with a bomb off the fence in left field to score Nakea Hanohano in the first inning.
Kuewa quickly fell behind 0-2 before sending a pitch back up the box that snuck through the infield and allowed Kawai Takemura to score. After two more walks loaded the bases, an errant pick-off throw from the pitcher sailed into center field, allowing Kuewa to touch the plate with the winning run setting off a wild celebration from the home dugout.
“It all depends on how you finish the game and we never give up,” said Kuewa, who was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. “We stayed calm, tried not to freak out or anything, and I was talking to my (teammates) telling them to never give up.”
Saint Louis gave Kamehameha the opening it needed with four walks and an error in the inning, but Kuewa had to come up with the clutch hit while behind in the count for the comeback to happen.
“During that at-bat I was talking to myself about how I can help this team win,” Kuewa said. “The whole game I was hitting the left side so I tried to work up the middle where I knew it would be open.”
A league that seemed headed to a playoff to determine its champion after six innings on Tuesday now is completely in Kamehameha’s control. The Warriors, who have only lost three games all year, would need to lose three straight games to the winner between Punahou and Saint Louis on Wednesday at Ala Wai Community Park to miss out on its first league crown in 11 years.
They will get their first crack at it on Saturday at 10 a.m.
“This was one of the biggest (wins) for us all year,” said DeJesus, who allowed two unearned runs and two hits in three innings in relief of Breault to pick up the win. “Saint Louis has been one of our biggest rivals the whole year and to win this game gives us so much. It’s a really good feeling that we want to keep going.”
Kamehameha lost its ILH opener 2-1 to Saint Louis with Meilleur outdueling Breault at Hans L’Orange Park. But since that loss, the Warriors are 14-2 overall and a staggering 7-0 in games decided by three runs or less.
It goes back to what Perkins said at the beginning about his teams’ ability not to panic.
“They’re special,” Perkins said. “They have fun together and they’re a tough group of kids. It’s awesome. I love them.”