Punahou chasing ILH softball crown with heavy dose of sophomores

In this 2019 ILH matchup, Punahou center fielder Tiani Wayton slid into home plate as the ball got away from 'Iolani catcher Kai Barrett in the Buffanblu's 10-4 win on Monday to take over sole possession of first place in the ILH. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 1, 2019).

Dave Eldredge has seen a lot in his decades of coaching.

Nothing compares to this pandemic year, he says. As Punahou prepares for a big season opener at Kamehameha on Wednesday, he is learning to reel in his level of expectations a bit.

“Only recently have I noticed this. We’re bringing back these girls after missing last year, but as they’re practicing, they’re not playing up to what I think a senior, junior or sophomore should be. But it occurred to me we didn’t play last year, so even if we have seniors, juniors and sophomores, they’re actually a year behind in terms of game knowledge and all the expectations we have,” he said.

It is another effect of COVID-19, in a very indirect way on a high school sports field.

“I’m patient because I know they didn’t get to work out,” Eldredge said. “It’s interesting. We’re trying to make that adjustment. I remind myself, hopefully, it’s not just us.

True enough. The experience of a full season of high-level softball in the ILH is impossible to replace. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 spring season, time in the sports universe froze.

That doesn’t mean the Buffanblu aren’t going to compete. In fact, Punahou is still one of the contenders in the ILH race. So is Kamehameha. So is Maryknoll. Mid-Pacific. And, of course, 2019 state champion ‘Iolani. It is a tough schedule up and down the ledger.

Punahou has two seniors: catcher Liana Heshiki and speedy center fielder Tiani Wayton.

“Liana is strong. When she gets her timing back, she’ll hit some balls hard,” Eldredge said.

Junior third baseman Asia Lee had a standout debut as a freshman in 2019.

“Asia had some honors as a freshman. She’s a Division I (college) prospect if we can get her seen,” Eldredge said.

Heshiki signed with Oklahoma Baptist and Wayton signed with Linfield.

“I believe both of them could’ve competed at a higher level, but with the COVID season allowing (college) athletes to return for another year, it’s made recruiting for these seniors much tougher,” Eldredge said. “Plus, without last season’s accomplishments, they had less to show in the recruiting process.”

The ’20 Buffanblu had nine seniors along with four freshmen starters.

“We lost that year. We did have some very talented freshmen, so they come back and start as sophomores,” he said.

Eldredge has great confidence in his infield, which includes shortstop Shanti Passi and first baseman Megan Yanagi.

“Megan will probably start at first base. We have a big infield. It looks like a college infield. They’re all big girls and solid, can swing a little bit,” Eldredge said.

The preseason is much shorter than usual with the cancellation of tournaments. In fact, Punahou has played just one scrimmage, against Mid-Pacific. Now, they open at Kamehameha, where the Warriors are known to have offensive explosions.

“It’s always tough. The years I’ve been here, we’ve always played for a title, but we’ve always opened up at Kamehameha and we haven’t found a way to win there yet. I think one year we won, but we struggle up there,” Eldredge said.

The reality is, the short preseason and effects of restrictions in the past year have a lot of players and coaches hoping for the best — and lowering expectations in the early season.

“I have absolutely no idea what to expect. We don’t know what kind of work they’ve got done in the past year,” Eldredge said.

Kamehameha will have senior Keila Kamoku, one of the top recruits in the islands. The power-hitting shortstop signed with Ole Miss.

Leo (Sing Chow) has got some good players, and some good pitchers, a couple of good arms back. We’re just very young on the mound. I know we can score runs. We definitely have nine who can swing. We’ll see how far behind we are defensively,” Eldredge said.


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