Punahou takes no chances, rides starting ace Matt McConnell

Punahou pitcher Matt McConnell. / Photo by Paul Honda

WAILUKU — The pitch-count limit has an effect on just about every team in the baseball state tournament.

Punahou had its own dilemma, even for just a moment. With a 4-1 lead on a dangerous Kaiser squad midway through the quarterfinal matchup, the possibility of pulling starting pitcher Matt McConnell existed. Why pull him? If he could stay below 61 pitches, he would be eligible to pitch again on Saturday — should the Buffanblu reach the title game.

Punahou opted to leave McConnell in rather than disrupt the potential of a complete-game win. By going the distance, the senior would be out of pitches to play the rest of the tourney — unless by some weather miracle, it extends past Saturday. The same pertains to anyone who starts for Punahou or any other semifinal team on Friday.

“Whoever starts tomorrow, once we start someone, he’s (probably) done,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said.

Anyone who pitches fewer than 35 pitches is eligible to pitch the following day. That’s what Kailua did with part-time pitcher Jalen Ah Yat on Wednesday and Thursday. But that’s a unique circumstance. Starters just don’t stay within 35 pitches, even on a bad day.

“The chances of us putting up a 10-spot in the first inning are unlikely. We had that conversation today with Matty during the fourth inning,” Sue noted. “We’re up 4-1. If we get a couple runs, do we take him out? Then we thought, hey, you know what, let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Let’s just win the game.”

Even at 4-1, very little is safe.

“A three-run lead in this environment is like nothing,” Sue added. “It’s like 0-0.”

Over the years, coaches have rolled the dice, holding back their No. 1 starting pitchers on Wednesday with plans to start them on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Or yanking a pitcher early to save him for another day. It happened during this tourney, as well. Perhaps they aren’t really No. 1 pitchers, but they are clearly close enough: Ayzek Silva of Campbell didn’t pitch in the opening round as the Sabers lost to Kaiser. Christian DeJesus of Kamehameha didn’t pitch in either of the Warriors’ first two games. Both teams are out of title contention, and maybe Silva and/or DeJesus weren’t available for health reasons. DeJesus didn’t play as a coach’s choice.

Some teams have a little more depth.

“It’s a gamble,” Sue noted. “We don’t subscribe to that philosophy. We have a specific rotation that we trust.”

For Punahou, Game 1 of the state tourney turned out to be mostly excellent, but the two errors in the fourth inning were uncharacteristic.

“In this environment, where there’s a lot of pressure, you see some weird things that you don’t usually see in regular games. It’s about making the routine plays, man,” Sue said.

Hilo, he said, is a mystery.

“We’re trying not to project too far down the road and just take care of today,” Sue said.

The logical starter on the mound would be Landon Carter, but the Buffanblu aren’t revealing their cards just yet.

“We’re going with our best guy and we’ll see what happens,” Sue said.


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