Punahou 1 step closer to ending 14-year ILH title drought

Punahou's Maya Matsubara (1) was greeted at the plate by teammates after her solo homer in the fourth inning against 'Iolani. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Punahou’s eighth-inning, walk-off 8-7 victory over ‘Iolani on Monday to win the ILH regular season didn’t end in jubilation for the home team.

Part of the reason was ‘Iolani third baseman Taylor Kai getting knocked over on the final play and hitting her head, which had Raiders coach Benny Agbayani concerned about her availability for the ILH postseason tournament beginning Wednesday.

As coaches and trainers checked on Kai, every Punahou player took a knee and waited until Agbayani gave the go-ahead that his third baseman would be OK. The teams then did their postgame cheers and shook hands.

Once Punahou finished the handshake line, maybe then it’d be time for a little celebration. After all, the win clinched Punahou a spot in the state tournament for the second straight year. The Buffanblu haven’t played in back-to-back state tournaments since qualifying four years in a row from 2010 to ’13.

Nope. Not much of a celebration then either. The team jogged out to the outfield for a lengthy meeting with coaches.

Slugger D’Asha Saiki, who tied the game with a ground-rule double in the sixth inning and scored the winning run after doubling to lead off the bottom of the eighth, said the team talked about being in the same position last year after winning the ILH regular season.

Punahou entered the single-elimination tournament and immediately lost to ‘Iolani. Then in a one-game playoff against Maryknoll for the ILH title, the Buffanblu were handed an 8-7 defeat.

It’s been 14 years since Punahou last won an ILH championship in softball and for Saiki and the rest of the Buffanblu, last year was a learning experience that will hopefully help end that drought this season.

“I think just not dwelling too much on this win and not letting it take away from the next game,” Saiki said about the lessons learned from a year ago. “Just being focused. Just focusing on the next game and we should be better.”

The No. 2-ranked Buffanblu (14-3) guaranteed at worst a one-game playoff to break that string should it fall short in the tournament by beating No. 4 ‘Iolani (13-4) for the third time this season.

The first two wins were by a combined score of 19-7, but the third meeting was a back-and-forth affair that saw three lead changes.

‘Iolani, which led most of the game until three errors in the sixth inning allowed Punahou to take a 7-6 lead, tied the game with one out in the seventh on Kalena Markham‘s solo homer to center.

Aleia Agabayani and Allie Capello also homered for the Raiders, who played flawlessly in the field until four errors in the last three innings.

The final one came at third in the eighth inning with Saiki on second and a runner at first. A chopper hit by Ashanti Martinez got past Kai at third, allowing Saiki to score the winning run.

“Coming off the bag I saw this high chopper and thought ‘oh man, we’re going to get out,’ “ Saiki said. “Lucky on that one.”

After losing its first two ILH games, Punahou won 13 straight before a loss to St. Francis on Friday. That allowed ‘Iolani, which beat Maryknoll, to force a one-game tiebreaker with the two teams finishing the regular season 13-3.

While ‘Iolani faltered in the field late, Punahou backed up Martinez on the mound with no errors behind her.

“We had a couple of uncharacteristically bad innings against St. Francis a couple of days ago and so to see them come back and play the way they did today was good,” Punahou coach David “Boy” Eldredge said.

Punahu will open the tournament hosting the winner between Mid-Pacific and Kamehameha on Saturday at 10 a.m. while the Raiders return to the field to host Sacred Hearts on Wednesday.

Punahou’s D’Asha Saiki doubled twice and scored three runs in a win over ‘Iolani on Monday to clinch a berth in the state tournament for the Buffanblu. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.


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