Dave Eldredge has kept his expectation level steady this spring.
After the past week, the Punahou Buffanblu have given the longtime coach reason to raise that bar. With wins over Sacred Hearts and ‘Iolani, the Buffanblu are now 2-2 in ILH softball regular-season play. When the single-elimination league playoffs begin on May 5, the top two teams will have first-round byes.
A 12-2 runaway win over ‘Iolani on Saturday in six innings came with a caveat. The Raiders were down to 11 players and were missing three starters who are at a club tournament in Las Vegas with the blessing of their coach, Benny Agbayani. However, Punahou’s offense was formidable with 13 hits, including three-hit performances by Liana Heshiki and Shonty Passi.
Heshiki, their steady senior catcher, hit 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Passi, a second baseman, was 3-for-4 with a double, two stolen bases and two runs scored. In all, five Buffanblu paired hits, including the No. 9 hitter, Mia Hashimoto. She went 2-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and two steals.
Shayla Yamashita scattered four hits in a complete-game win for Punahou.
From the top to the bottom of the lineup, Punahou is getting improvement, the kind that would likely have occurred if the 2020 season hadn’t been struck down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My expectation was coaching sophomores, juniors and seniors, but after the first couple of games, I realized that we’re actually coaching freshmen, sophomores and juniors because we totally lost last year,” Eldredge said. “We kind of took it back and we decided to be more patient. We started from the basics and made sure that we weren’t doing something too advanced. This past week-and-a-half, we’ve been happy with the progress. It’s still a work in progress and hopefully we’ll get to where we need to be.”
Center fielder Tiani Wayton and Heshiki, their two senior co-captains, are part of the core in the middle. Heshiki has plenty of clout in her bat, a left-hander with power, but her gentle leadership is crucial for a young team in a league filled with sluggers. One afternoon, when her pitcher gave up a home run, she turned to the Punahou dugout and said, “Coach, she hit her spot. Nothing else I can ask.”
“Liana’s an outstanding leader,” Eldredge said. “She’s a unanimous vote when we voted for captain. She’s upbeat and leads by example as well as voice. She has a high softball IQ. She takes care of things like an extra coach on the field,” Eldredge said. “Tiani’s our other senior captain. She’s been actually struggling, but she’s made some really good (hitting) adjustments and hitting line drives.”
Punahou struck for four runs in the first inning and never looked back. Asia Lee walked with one out, stole second base and came home on a single to center by Heshiki, who advanced to second base on an outfield error. Passi’s groundout led to an infield error by ‘Iolani. With two outs, Wayton singled, stole second base, and Aliya Hashimoto walked. After Megan Yanagi was hit by a pitch, the bases were loaded.
Justice Tiberi came through with a two-run single to center, scoring Wayton and Hashimoto for a 4-0 lead against ‘Iolani starting pitcher Carly Izuo.
The Raiders scratched out a run in the top of the third inning. Keely Kai led off with a single to center, moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Milla Fukuda, and advanced to third on an error. Kennadie Tsue’s sacrifice fly to center brought Kai home.
Punahou answered with two runs in the bottom of the third against ‘Iolani’s second pitcher, Ailana Agbayani. Wayton walked and stole second base, and Hashimoto got hit by a pitch. After a sac bunt by Yanagi, Tiberi’s grounder to second scored Wayton from third base to increase Punahou’s lead to 5-1.
With Mia Hashimoto at the plate, a wild pitch permitted Aliya Hashimoto to score, and the Buffanblu had a five-run lead.
The Raiders had the bases loaded in the top of the fourth after singles by Kealani Markham and Brooklyn Alejo and a walk by Izuo. However, Kai popped out and Izuo was picked off first base by Punahou’s catcher, Heshiki, to end the threat.
The Buffanblu then plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take command. Heshiki led off with a home run to center. Passi singled, stole second and went to third on a single by Wayton. Aliya Hashimoto followed with a double to left, scoring Passi for an 8-1 lead.
After Yanagi walked, Tiberi grounded into a 6-2-3 double play. Mia Hashimoto then doubled to right, scoring Aliya Hashimoto and Yanagi. Punahou led 10-1.
The Raiders pushed another single run across in the top of the fifth. Kaylee Matsuda’s forceout grounder scored Tsue.
In the bottom of the fifth, Punahou put and end to it. Lee led off with a single off ‘Iolani’s third pitcher, Kiara Baba. After Heshiki grounded out, Passi singled. She stole second base, and after a groundout by Wayton, Aliya Hashimoto singled to center to score Lee and Passi.
‘Iolani (1-3) 001 01 — 2 4 1
Punahou (2-2) 402 42 — 12 13 2
Carly Izuo, Ailana Agbayani (3), Kiara Boba (5) and Brooklyn Alejo. Shayla Yamashita and Liana Heshiki. W—Yamashita. L—Izuo.
Leading hitters—‘Iolani: Kennadie Tsue 0-1, RBI, run, sac fly. Punahou: Makana Lapera 2-3, walk, SB; Asia Lee 1-3, 2 runs, BB, SB; Heshiki 3=4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Shonty Passi 3-4, double, 2 SB, 2 runs; TIani Wayton 2-3, 2 runs, walk, 2 SB; Aliya Hashimoto 2-2, double, walk; Justice Tiberi 1-3, 3 RBI, run; Mia Hashimoto 2-3, double, 2 RBI, 2 SB.