The Ripple Effect.
The Cage Reps.
Maybe there are more theories that make sense, but the dearth of dominant pitching may have to do with any of the above. Or none. Tuesday’s wild 11-10 battle at Ala Wai Field, a comeback win by St. Francis over No. 4 Punahou, was as much about plate vision as it was hitting. The teams combined for 23 hits, 15 walks and four hit batters.
The ILH, once the domain of ace pitchers and (mostly) low-scoring duels, is in slugger mode. It’s working well for St. Francis, which has won six ILH games in a row after losing its first two. The Saints are now 4-2 against Top 10 teams this season, but couldn’t stay in the poll this week after sharing the No. 10 spot in the previous balloting. Coaches and media may not have pegged the Saints with their more traditional competition in the ILH, but St. Francis has beaten Mid-Pacific (previously ranked), Punahou (twice) and ‘Iolani. They lost to Kamehameha 11-2 in the league opener, then to Maryknoll 3-1.
Click here for updated ILH standings.
The Ripple Effect could also be known as the Migration. Clearly, West Oahu is the power base of Hawaii softball now. The top three teams in this week’s Star-Advertiser Softball Top 10 are OIA West teams. Many of the top players hail from Leeward and Central Oahu. For every Mililani-raised slugger playing in the ILH (Kamehameha’s Dallas Millwood), there are a plethora of offensive and defensive standouts who stayed home, took a pass on the daily commute and saved a fortune on five-figure annual tuition fees.
But what about the ILH? There used to be enough talent to keep the traditional powers in the fray, but St. Francis arguably has the league’s most potent slugging lineup. Maybe it’s more of a Spillover Effect. If hitting is historically at or near a peak in the ILH, that may be a key reason why pitching is at a premium more than ever, at least in the past decade, for ILH programs. The league isn’t suffering by any means, but there isn’t exactly another Kamalani Dung right now. There are potentially several next-wave aces; the arms of the ILH are mostly young. Very young.
But couple the decline in pitching experience with year-round Cage Reps for players from town to country, and we have a case where the Cycle is heavy and high for hitters, and pitching is on a not-so-unusual ebb. Things could flip-flop within a year or two, but has there ever been this much hitting depth across the ILH and OIA?
St. Francis, a Division II athletic program, is proving that there is a surplus of softball talent compared to recent years. And boys basketball talent. And girls basketball talent. And football talent. The softball Saints piled up 11 hits against Punahou, a team that is (or was) atop the ILH D-I standings. Here’s what Coach Randy Langsi’s lineup did on Tuesday afternoon.
>> Hailey Matsumura — 2-for-3, walk, hit by pitch, double, RBI and three runs scored.
>> Kaena Keliinoi — 3-5, two doubles, five RBIs, one run scored.
>> Skye Ah Yat — 1-3, double, HBP, RBI, run.
>> Sammie Ofoia — 2-3, walk, home run, two RBIs, run.
>> Kolbee Kealoha — 0-2, walk, sac bunt.
>> Kailee Mahelona — 1-4, run.
>> Jordyn Lono — 0-3, walk, run.
>> Kamaile Perreira — 1-4, run.
>> Kawena Kalani — 1-3, HBP, 2 runs.
Punahou was no slouch at the plate, of course, putting 22 batters on base: 12 hits, 10 walks, one hit batter. D’Asha Saiki (3-for-5) homered and drove in five runs. Bailey Akimseu blasted a home run that appeared to be a key insurance run in the top of the seventh frame. Janell Sato (3-for-4), Maya Matsubara (2-for-4, two doubles, three runs), Kennedy Ishii (2-for-2, two walks, three runs, two RBIs) — Punahou hasn’t lacked a bit for offense.
The difference on Tuesday? The Buffanblu stranded 14 baserunners. The Saints left just seven on base, not including their two baserunners when Matsumura raced home from third base with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a Punahou throwing error.
So what does it mean when a D-II team is 6-2 in the wild battle zone of the ILH’s meshed schedule? St. Francis swept Punahou this season, beating the Buffanblu 9-3 on Mar. 14. Designed as a D-II school by the league, St. Francis is not under any obligation to play D-I in softball (or any other sport), though this would’ve been the year to do it. They have as much power and skill as any team in the league, possibly the state.
“We embrace the challenge. Playing Division I teams is like our own playoffs,” said Langsi, who began with the Saints a decade ago under then-head coach Mark Glushenko.
The decision to stay or leave D-II is an administrative call. The roster has 12 players. Twelve is typical of a small school team, but somehow the Saints make it work. They have plenty of skill and muscle at the plate, they’re doing more outscoring than anything to notch wins. The Saints, Langsi noted, pitch by committee. They did that on Tuesday with Sierrah Kupihea, Nanea Kalama and Mahelona, their starting left fielder, before returning to Kupihea in the final inning. Punahou did the virtually the same, going 5 2/3 innings with Ishii, then first baseman Akimseu, right fielder Bri Alejo, and then back to Ishii in the seventh.
The loss isn’t something that knocks Punahou out of the chase for first place and an automatic state-tournament berth.
“We were down five runs and we came back,” Buffanblu first-year softball head coach Boy Eldredge said. “We’ve done it all year. The girls believe in themselves.”
Langsi is already looking ahead to ‘Iolani.
“It’s not going to be easy. They’re scrappy and they have a lot of speed,” he said.
What the Saints have is more than just talent.
“Everybody came together in the last inning,” said Matsubara, their leadoff hitter who capped the four-run seventh by scoring the winning run. “We know we have the bats. I think we can play with anyone in D-I.”