For all of the chess games and field warfare and, ultimately, unmatched parity of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, it took the existence of a new rule to make the season’s biggest game to date to put a wrench in the machine.
It was mostly unanticipated. Few expected Kamehameha’s Hunter Breault to struggle*. He came away with the win as his team edged co-front runner Saint Louis 1-0 on a hot, still afternoon at Goeas Field. But he also walked six Crusaders and couldn’t negotiate the outside corner with his home plate umpire quite as smoothly as he had all season. He came up big — scouts recorded his heater at 88 to 91 mph — when necessary.
*Struggle meaning he still had the numbers that almost any other pitcher would crave: He gave up three hits and no runs in 5 2/3 innings
With each team at 8-2 coming into the contest and five games — one more round-robin — remaining, everything was possible for the Crusaders. They simply couldn’t get that one or two breaks. They left 10 runners on base, and eight in total reached on walks.
1st inning: Dylan Pagente one-out walk. D.J. Stephens reaches on a fielder’s choice. Two outs, Matt Wong pops out.
2nd: Charles Lopez walk with one out, steals second, goes to third on an infield single. This is big because his hard grounder in the hole is stopped by a leaping Kawai Takemura at shortstop, keeping Lopez at third. With only one out, Saint Louis just needs a fly ball, but Breault gets Hunter Peneueta to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Clutch for Kamehameha. A Charlie Brown “AAAUUGGHH” for Saint Louis.
3rd: Pagente singles with two outs, stranded when Stephens grounds to first.
4th: Aaron Renaud reaches base on an infield single with one out, advances to second on a Lopez groundout to first. Kai Perreira-Alquiza grounds out to third for the third out. Many of Saint Louis’ ground balls are hard shots, but they’re all fielded cleanly. Kamehameha’s hot-corner man, Chaesten Chon, is all aces.
5th: The pressure is on after Kamehameha plates an unearned run in the top of the frame. Peneueta leads off and walks on four pitches. Makana Ontai walks on five pitches. A big inning is in the works. Breault has been borderline wild at times, nearly hitting two batters in the head on fourth-ball heaves. But he catches Keith Torres looking on a 1-2 fastball for a strike that Torres clearly disagrees with. Pagente then sac-bunts and Saint Louis has runners at third and second with two outs for its No. 3 hitter in the lineup, Stephens. He blasts a one-hop grounder to second base. Breault has escaped again.
6th: With two outs, Lopez walks on five pitches and there is a delay as Saint Louis coach George Gusman steps onto the diamond. He and Kamehameha coach Tommy Perkins discuss something, and it’s very probable that this is about Breault’s pitch count. He is 93 pitches at this point. Later, Gusman said that because Breault threw 20 pitches two days earlier (vs. Punahou), he was on a 110-pitch limit. Perkins later said that because of the day’s rest in between (on Wednesday), the pitch-count number is reset. At this point, Gusman tells Perkins that the Warriors’ coach could be ejected for broaching the limit, which might be possible via protest.
“I told him, ‘If you’re going to protest, that’s fine,” Perkins said.
Gusman, who officiates football games in the Big 12 Conference, is confident that his understanding of the rule is correct. The discussion involving the two longtime coaches includes the home-plate umpire and ends after roughly five minutes.
After the delay, Breault walks Perreira-Alquiza on a 3-2 pitch. Breault leaves with 101 pitches on the day. Did the 20-pitch stint against Punahou — he got the save — make the difference? It’s difficult to say, but he wasn’t the same pitcher we’d seen earlier.
Jace Borja, the trusted middle reliever* of pitching coach Jayson Kramer, douses the fire by getting Peneueta to send a scorching line shot to left fielder Micah Kinoshita. Ten feet to the left or right and it’s a double or triple. It’s that kind of a day at the plate for Saint Louis.
“We had our chances. That line out in the sixth,” Gusman said later.
*Middle reliever is an outdated description Borja or anyone else on Kamehameha’s staff. They’re not going with a traditional format, necessarily. The results are astounding.
7th: Torres, who has made brilliant plays at shortstop, draws a one-out walk and Pagente follows with another walk. Each had worked the count full against Borja, who leaves after 24 pitches. Francis Gora moves from right field to the mound. With no outs, the Crusaders could bunt the runners forward, but Stephens gets his chance to swing away. He hits a fielder’s choice grounder that forces Torres out at third. Gora unveils a sharp breaking curve against Wong, and with a 1-2 count, he grounds out to first, ending the game.
What’s also interesting is that the Warriors have enough arms to get help on the mound after Breault leaves whether it’s in the fifth inning or sixth. So whatever results from Gusman’s protest will have a nice perch atop the ILH standings in the balance.
All in all, it was Saint Louis pitcher Dylan Lum who hurled perhaps his best performance — no earned runs, four hits, two strikeouts and just one walk — in the clutch.
“I’m very proud of Dylan,” Gusman said.
Of course, the pitch-count protest wasn’t the only contested issue in this game. The fifth-inning run by Kamehameha was equally unusual. After Li‘i Pontes led off and reached base on an infield error, Gora was at the plate. He squared up to bunt on the first pitch from Lum. The pitch went through as Gora pulled his bat back, got past the catcher, Perreira-Alquiza, and ricocheted off the umpire, who immediately went down, but stayed on one knee.
As the ball was retrieved by Perreira-Alquiza, Pontes raced around second base and arrived safely at third. This is where the discussion between Gusman and the umpire was completely disjointed. Polite enough, but absolute disagreement. Perkins agreed with the umpire that the ball was simply missed by the catcher.
“I heard the ball hit his glove,” Perkins said.
But Gusman insisted that the pitch was foul-tipped by Gora, who held his bat on the possible bunt around chest level. The ball ended up hitting the umpire in the lower extremities. In other words, this was a magic-bullet effect that Gusman explained had nothing to do with his catcher. It went from the bat (high) to the umpire’s groin (low).
“There is no way my catcher misses the ball,” Gusman said, and it’s hard to argue this since Perreira-Alquiza had a seemingly flawless game behind the plate.
However, the home-plate umpire never wavered, even as he kneeled there in pain. So officially, it is a passed ball on the catcher, magic-bullet theory withstanding. What Gusman also didn’t care for was that the umpire wouldn’t ask his base umpire for assistance.
Gora, the No. 8 hitter in Kamehameha’s lineup, clutched up. With the count 2-1, he flared a single over first base, scoring Pontes from third base with the game’s lone run. It turned out to be quite the day for Gora, netting a game-winning hit, pitching for a save in the Warriors’ most crucial win of the season at this point.
“I was a little nervous. Just normal jitters,” he said.
It’s tough enough to take the mound late in any game, but coming straight from the outfield?
“In the bullpen, I had eight pitches,” Gora said of the brief time before going back to the field in the sixth inning.
During that quick stint in the pen, he already had his curve ball going. Then he got eight warmup pitches after Borja was done.
“It’s a big situation. Just do it for the team,” Gora said. “If we keep putting in the work every day, it’s still not going to be easy.”
True enough. Nothing comes easy in the ILH. Not a thing.