The sun was starting to go down behind the buildings to the southwest of the Punahou softball diamond, giving the atmosphere a golden hue.
Buffanblu senior starting pitcher Nicole Nishizawa was walking in from the outfield after working with her teammates to dismantle the makeshift home run fence.
She had just played her last high school game and she went over to the dugout, where coach Bobby Makahilahila was packing up some final things before departing.
They shared a few moments of smiles and hugs before she was off to give a final goodbye for the season to her assistant coaches gathered in left field.
“She’s over there thanking them for everything they do,” said Makahilahila, whose Punahou squad had just lost to Mid-Pacific 10-5 in an ILH tournament elimination game. “She’s sad and all that, but that’s a kid that gets it. She keeps her head up and puts things in perspective. It’s a game.
“She’s been a varsity player for four years. A team player, always high-fiving her defensive players. Focused. Determined. She never gets down.”
Nishizawa had a gem of a pitching game going against Mid-Pacific until the Owls rattled her in the sixth and seventh innings with a barrage of offense.
Through five innings, Nishizawa had a two-hitter going and 4-1 lead. In the fifth, she rocketed a two-run homer over the left-field fence, the very fence she helped to dismantle. And it was also the same fence that MPI freshman Marissa Allen smashed a ball over for a grand slam off of Nishizawa in the sixth to give the Owls a 5-4 lead.
That moment, when the game started slipping away, was in stark contrast to the feel-good home run the inning before, when Nishizawa jogged to home plate to be greeted by her cheering teammates. Behind the cage on her helmet, she was smiling from ear to ear.
All she had to do was close it out. Instead, it was her high school career that closed out.
The fence came down, and it’s going to open up a new world for the Punahou standout. The college gates at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., will be welcoming her in the fall. She was recruited by the Crimson and she will play softball there.
“I was excited for our team (when we had the lead) and then … yeah,” she said, leaving out what is already known. Punahou lost.
“It didn’t go our way.”