It wasn’t checkers or chess.
Punahou vs. Maryknoll on a summer-hot afternoon at Tiger Softball Stadium was more like Risk. Every decision, every pitch, everything that could change momentum played out from start to finish as the Buffanblu pulled out a 5-4 win in eight innings.
The rankings — Punahou entered tied at No. 6 and Maryknoll is No. 4 — will fluctuate with an Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I cast of teams that is impossible to predict. Parity in ILH softball may never have been this deep.
Risk? With his team ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Maryknoll coach John Uekawa played the odds and went by the book. Punahou had Maya Matsubara on third base with one out and D’asha Saiki at the plate. Saiki was 0-for-1 with two walks at that point. The Spartans issued her an intentional walk, putting the potential winning run on base.
“She’s been one of the hottest hitters in the league. D’asha’s hitting almost .700,” Uekawa said of the sage, yet gutsy decision.
Bailey Akimseu then showed bunt before slapping an Aloha Akaka pitch to center for the game-tying single, scoring Matsubara. Akaka eventually got out of the inning, striking out two Buffanblu with the bases loaded.
It was just one of several potential turning points in one of the best softball games so far this spring.
The first pivotal play was in the second inning, when Bri Alejo doubled and tried to score with two outs on Matsubara’s single to center. The ball appeared to bobble in the hands of Maryknoll catcher Baylie Kahele as Alejo slid across home plate, but she was ruled out. It was a tough angle for the home-plate umpire.
“The center fielder made a good throw,” Punahou third-base coach Mark Rasmussen said of Nohea Hee.
Punahou’s winning run was sheer grit in the bottom of the eighth.
Matsubara, who finished 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and two runs scored, socked a two-out single to center. On the first pitch to Kennedy Ishii (2-for-5, walk, RBI, double), Matsubara took off for second base. Ishii swung at the off-speed pitch by Akaka and Matsubara slid into second safely.
“I gave her the signal (to steal) and she looked at me for the signal again,” Rasmussen said. “So I gave her the signal a second time.”
On the next pitch, Ishii looked for the outside pitches that Maryknoll had shown all night. She slapped away and grounded the ball sharply through the hole at short. Matsubara raced home with one of Punahou’s biggest wins of the early season.
The Buffanblu are now 4-2 in league play under first-year head coach Boy Eldredge.
“Kennedy did a great job on the mound,” he said of Punahou’s starting pitcher, who went six innings. “She threw strikes and kept us in the game, and Bailey is a great closer.”
One game does not a whole ILH season make, but the Buffanblu have trailed Maryknoll in recent seasons. After all, there’s a degree of psychology involved when a team is 4-2 as opposed to 3-3.
“We’ve been working on a way to put the pieces together,” Ishii said. “This is a step up.”