D-II St. Francis forces Punahou into ILH D-I softball tiebreaker

St. Francis' Kaena Keliinoi (8) celebrated with teammates after a home run against Punahou during the third inning on Friday. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

St. Francis coach Randy Langsi says his team plays every game like it’s their last. With the school set to close at the end of May, maybe that line of thinking is warranted.

But against No. 2 Punahou, the No. 9 Saints were up against the ILH’s elite. A petition for St. Francis to move up from Division II to Division I in ILH and state competition was denied twice on March 22, and Friday’s game at Ala Wai Park had a chance to serve as a proving ground that the Saints belonged right up there with everyone else in the top tiers.

Mission accomplished.

Behind Kaena Keliinoi’s two home runs and Shaylann Grace’s two doubles and 2 1/3 innings of relief, the Saints came out on top 11-7, snapping the Buffanblu’s 13-game winning streak.

“It’s a statement win. It meant a lot for us to finish strong. We got to show that hey, we got enough talent,” Langsi said. “Not only that, but the school is (about to be) closed. Every game is like the last game. Every game we’re playing for is a statement win. There’s a lot behind this team that’s gonna motivate us heading into state.”

Keliinoi showcased her power at the plate and skill behind it with some stellar defense at catcher for the Saints. Before the Hawaii signee heads off to Manoa this fall, games like Friday’s are the ones she’ll remember.

“We’ve been waiting for this game all season. The first time we played them (a 7-6 loss on March 20), we beat ourselves,” she said. “But hats off to them because they have really good bats and really good defense. All around, they’re a good team in the ILH. We just worked hard this week and nothing was going to stop us.”

The Saints (11-4) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second after Punahou (13-3) uncharacteristically committed four errors in the frame alone. Keliinoi’s first solo shot of the game extended the lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the third.

St. Francis starter Sierrah Kupihea cruised through the Punahou lineup until surrendering a three-run home run to Tiani Wayton in the fifth, trimming the Saints’ lead to 5-4. She then yielded to Grace, who gave up the tying run in the fifth but made up for it at the plate.

After Keliinoi hit her second solo smash of the day to break a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the fifth, Grace’s second double stretched the St. Francis lead to 11-5 heading into the top of the seventh.

“We just had to come in with the right mentality and we really had to work for this. We had to prove that we can be in D-I,” Grace said. “We can be right up there with them. It came down to minimizing errors and coming together as a team.”

As for Punahou’s streak, Langsi says it was never brought up to his team heading into the game.

“We don’t think about that. We just worry about each inning and each pitch, and what we gotta do. (Punahou’s) a great them, they’re well-coached and we had some breaks, I think it went both ways today,” he said. “Today was definitely a challenge for us to stay ahead, don’t panic, score some runs and just keep it close. Thirteen, I didn’t really think about that. We didn’t even bring it up to our girls. The girls did a great job.”

A win for Punahou would have given the Buffanblu the ILH Division I regular season title and an automatic state berth. Instead, a tiebreaker with No. 4 ‘Iolani (13-3) awaits on Monday. Although the Buffanblu have beaten the Raiders twice this season, Punahou coach Dave Eldredge knows the previous matchups won’t have any bearing on the next one.

“I think there were two things. One was that we didn’t have a very good practice (Thursday) and we put a lot of emphasis on how we prepare is how we play,” Eldredge said when asked about Friday’s loss. “The other thing was looking forward for opportunities to play teams like this. They came out physical and we gotta be physical back and be a little more competitive than we were today.

“We talk about this all the time — you gotta respect the game because anything can happen at any time. We gotta be ready for a dogfight on Monday.”

As the Saints resume Division II play in the ILH on April 18 against Damien, they set out to prove they can compete with anyone. On Friday, that message was received loud and clear by the best in Division I.

“We can battle. We’ve been saying it this whole season,” Keliinoi said. “Although our school is closing, we just want to make a statement and this game showed it.”


  1. OIA VS ILH April 14, 2019 9:31 am

    Good for you saints! Would love to see you guys play the undefeated Campbell Sabers. I watched the pre season games you guys had against them and you guys should’ve won both games! PLEASE HAWAII PREP WORLD put this game together. Campbell VS Saints TV game or just a game! This would be a MEAN battle! Like championship for D1. PLEASE you don’t want to miss that game!

  2. ILH April 15, 2019 11:57 am

    Why?? To prove even more that they sandbaggers??

    Focus on whats in front of you and make this last year the best and most memorable season ever.

    In Division II.

  3. EVVE April 16, 2019 4:57 pm

    @ OIA VS ILH – Why would a team with multiple loses be a good match up for an undefeated team? Because you THINK so. Haha. Trying win the ILH league before taking on another league. Why don’t you start a petition so it can get denied. Lots of D1 team actually have a chance to play Campbell in the state tournament. Unfortunately you’ll be on another island at the time. #DealWithIt

  4. OIA April 17, 2019 7:30 am

    I’m not from any team in the ILH. Sadly our team this year (OIA) is not doing so great right now but I can admit that Saint Francis is a hard team to beat. Despite their record, they should’ve only had 2 L’s. These hater comments toward the Saint Francis team should show how scared people really are of them. They don’t want to see them in D1 or having a shot to play the best in the state because it’ll prove that they can beat the best and prove that they belong with us in D1. Respect the game of softball. Have some PRIDE and CONFIDENCE in your own team or whatever team you’re routing for. True softball players who wanna win and are competitive, WANT to play the best. People now days want a easy win. To be the best just like the coach from Punahou said “you gottah play the best to be the best”
    Even that Punahou game, Saints had them beat the first game too but like their catcher said, they beat themselves. Make another game, if that happens I’ll say who I am and I’ll bet ANYONE that Saints will beat Punahou once again. If there’s any team that has a chance to take D1 from ILH side, sorry to say but it would be Saint Francis. Punahou will not come close to beating the best team in the state. Let Saints play Punahou or Campbell. Someone make the game happen, only way to see the truth. Other than that, keep it up Saints! We all know how you guys play and the people who respect the game of softball and who love to compete with the best support you ladies to the fullest! Another reason you guys possibly could’ve got denied is because Blaine Gaison is a graduate from Kamehameha High School. Did your assistant coaches know that during the petition? Reporters even say Blaine Gaison wouldn’t answer anyone’s calls or return people’s calls about the situation. No surprise there.
    Good luck Saints! Hope you ladies get to play the best of OIA which is Campbell. If not, just know everyone in the softball community knows it’s not the same without you ladies here with us competing in D1. Remember ladies and coaches, HATERS gonna hate. You folks are doing something right to have this many haters haha. Let em hate! Sure you guys love it haha.

  5. EVVE April 17, 2019 7:47 pm

    @OIA – Nobody is hating but you sound 100% delusional. Making excuses and saying they should have won is delusional. They los! Just because you think Punahou can’t beat the best team doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s called an opinion. Records are there to show what you actually did not what you could have did. You get even more delusional when you talk about Blaine Giason. So what if he’s a Kamehameha grad? What is your point? KS softball did not benefit from his decision. Please be more educated. LOL. His decision is called following rules. St. Francis is responsible for failing to make the request the year before. Nobody else. Blame STF coaches, athletic director, and admin. They should have made the petition during the same time that every other ILH has to. Uhhh maybe can blame school possibly closing for them not doing it? NOPE, they should have requested it especially since they did not know for sure what was happening. They are not above the rules. Bottom line STF fault for not making timely request. And who cares already the school is closing in a month. MOVE ON!

  6. OIA to OIA April 18, 2019 7:46 am

    @OIA haha there’s one of those haters u were talking about.

    I’m from OIA too and our team is actually doing really good. I just wanted to say that I agree with u 100% on everything. Don’t waste ur time and energy.

    Saint Francis great win against Punahou, I called that W. U guys are killing it and got this whole island talking, hating and definitely wanting to see u guys play us OIA teams. Us girls love a great competition and u guys would be a real good match up for us.

  7. Good Win April 18, 2019 8:00 am

    I think it’s so funny that people continue to say it’s because the ad or the coaches or whoever didn’t turn in paper work that’s why Saint Francis is in Division 2. Blame them not the person who denied them. lol.
    That’s not the point. The point is, we want competition in Division 1, we want to compete against the best. I get it, rules are rules. But seriously, it’s SOFTBALL. It’s about playing the best teams, beating them and feeling good about it. All people want to do now is beat all junk teams win and call themselves the “CHAMPIONS” haha. That’s a joke. Champions tell whoever “will play u anytime and place” and then they beat them. Lol. I’m from ILH and we ARE Division 1. We are also not doing good this year and I definitely agree with u both @OIA @OIAtoOIA

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