Punahou stays hot to advance to semifinals

Nahili Hong scored on a sacrifice fly by Ocean Makekau as Lahainaluna tied the game at 3 against Punahou. The Buffanblu went on to win 10-4 in the quarterfinals of the DataHouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. Photo by Jerry Campany/Star-Advertiser

Another tussle. Another runaway.

The Punahou Buffanblu have learned so much in the past few seasons, but never got through the ILH gauntlet to qualify for the state tourney. Now, with a come-from-behind 10-4 quarterfinal win over MIL champion Lahainaluna, Punahou is in the semifinal round.

Ashanti Martinez went 2-for-3 with an RBI, D’Asha Saika was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a double, and after popping up twice against Lunas ace Seraya Casco, Bailey Akimseu homered for the second day in a row, a three-run shot in the big sixth inning. Akimseu finished 1-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.

Kennedy Ishii did the job on the mound with five innings in relief of Akimseu. Ishii allowed no runs, four hits, struck out two and walked none in a heady, veteran performance. Punahou will play the Campbell-Pearl City winner on Thursday, 7 p.m.

“We had to play early today, but now we’ll get a chance to rest and what we need to do to get ready,” Punahou coach Boy Eldredge said.

Punahou defeated OIA powerhouse Kapolei 10-2 on Tuesday night in a game that ended at around 9 p.m. By 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, they were at battle with the Lady Lunas, who brought a tough right-hander in Casco. Eldredge opted to start Akimseu, his regular starting first baseman and closer, to get some work in — and give Ishii a little more time to recover.

“That was a quick turnaround. The idea that there’s four games if we go all the way, so if we can spot (Ishii). It was a great time to use Bailey,” Eldredge said.

It was much closer than the final score indicated. Lahainaluna led 4-3 entering the sixth inning.

“Casco did a great job and stayed away from us. I kept thinking every inning, we’re going to take off, and she kept us under control for five innings. When they’re struggling and not hitting the ball the way they should, they’re down and we tell them stop the frustration and just play and have fun. It started up with Kawai’s hit,” Eldredge said.

Lahainaluna (9-6) made a late-season run to the MIL championship, knocking off previously unbeaten Baldwin twice to secure the league’s seeded berth and first-round bye in the state tourney.

Like Kapolei, Lahainaluna was resilient. The Lunas scored in the first inning and led for most of the way. They trailed 3-2 before scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth to regain the lead.

Nahili Hong and Kaaina Kalanikau began the inning for the Lunas with ground ball singles to left. Casco’s sac bunt advanced the runners. Ocean Makekau’s sac fly scored Hong to tie the game with Kalanikau hustling to third on the throw home. Kalanikau then scored on a wild pitch for a 4-3 Lunas lead.

Then came a five-run sixth inning by the Buffanblu. After collecting six hits in the first five frames, Punahou got a run-scoring single from Bri Alejo and the three-run homer from Akimseu, her second in as many games, to highlight the rally.

The Lunas will play the Campbell-Pearl City loser on Thursday, noon, at Tiger Softball Stadium (McKinley).

“The girls persevered considering what we had to bounce back from with injuries earlier in the season,” Lahainaluna coach Lei Nakamura said. “We finally came back and were happy. We got to represent Maui and our school, playing at UH’s stadium. The pressure is absolutely here and they were able to push past all of the nerves.”

The young Lunas have a good chance to three-peat as MIL champions next season. They are stocked with underclassmen.

“I’m losing two seniors, our second baseman and our first baseman. Hopefully, we can continue the ride next season. Everyone’s going to have to step up,” Nakamura said.


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