Tyler Shimabukuro kept tinkering, kept lingering, and finally, he has emerged as a force.
The Punahou junior right-hander had just two appearances on the mound in the first three weeks of ILH play. He recorded a combined three innings against Division II programs Pac-Five and Hanalani, and did not register in the win or loss column.
Then came a five-inning stint against Maryknoll, allowing no runs on three hits with three strikeouts and just one walk. It was his first win. On Monday afternoon, coach Keenan Sue turned to Shimabukuro in the fifth inning with Punahou in position to clinch the regular-season title and an automatic state-tournament berth, but Kamehameha was down 2-1 with the bases loaded.
Shimabukuro got Kamehameha’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup, Hanu Racoma, on an inning-ended groundout. Then he went the rest of the way and finished with 2 1/3 shutout innings, permitting just one hit and striking out two for his first save.
“He did great. He’s really blossomed. He’s worked his tail off,” Sue said. “He’s got a pretty high spin rate on his fastball, so it rides even though he doesn’t throw it real hard, but it comes in on guys. The biggest key for Tyler has been he’s able to figure out how to throw that curve ball for strikes. I think it was early in the season this year. He struggled early in preseason, then he had a really great start against Maryknoll, then his confidence really soared.”
No. 2 Punahou showed a high level of mettle, which meshes well with a healthy depth in the pitching staff. Starter Landon Carter walked two in the opening inning against Kamehameha, then struck out two, and battled through ups and downs. He got his team to the fifth inning with a 2-1 lead.
“That’s why, again, in this league. Everybody’s got talent, and it’s about who keeps his wits about him. Landon pitches well when he doesn’t have his ‘A’ game. Just bring 100 percent of your ‘B’ game. So he did great,” Sue noted.
Carter kept his poise all the way through.
“At times I didn’t have control, but I had to keep going, keep focusing on the next pitch. Mechanically, just a little off,” Carter said. “I just told Tyler to go get ‘em. I have so much trust in him.”
Shimabukuro looked strong in the heat. It was a dry, dusty afternoon at Goeas Field.
“I felt pretty good. I started throwing my fastball. I knew if I got it over then it would be pretty easy to work my other (pitches),” said Shimabukuro, who threw just 27 pitches. “The hot weather felt good. All the hard work by our team paid off. Honestly, I feel like players put pressure on each other. Every day, the pitchers, especially, keep each other accountable.”
Punahou is the only team that has given No. 1 Baldwin — the defending state champion — a loss, back in a preseason, by a 5-3 score.
“We feel confident that we can play with anyone,” Carter added. “We’re as good as anyone from the bottom to the top. We trust each other.”
Punahou has not won the ILH title nor reached the semifinals of the state tournament since winning seven state crowns in a row under Eric Kadooka from 2004 to ’10.
This is the first time Punahou will play in consecutive state tournament since that runs of titles ended in 2010.
At Goeas Field
Kamehameha (9-6) 000 010 0 — 1 5 0
Punahou (13-2) 001 100 x — 2 8 1
Kapono Rawlins, Javyn Pimental (4) and Vince Venenciano. Landon Carter, Tyler Shimabukuro (5) and Matt Nishimura. W—Carter. L—Rawlins. Sv—Shimabukuro.
Leading hitters—Kamehameha: Josiah Pekelo 2-3, walk; Venenciano 2-3, 2B. Punahou: Jake Tsukada 1-3, RBI; Makana Murashige 2-3; Koa Eldredge 2-3, RBI, 2B.