If there was ever a wall that made for a obstacle in the life of this season’s Damien Monarchs baseball team, it would be the one they’re trying to climb right now.
Damien came through with a gritty, everyone-all-in 9-6 victory over regular-season champion St. Francis on Saturday, which kept the Monarchs’ postseason hopes alive. Unlike the ILH’s Division I baseball chase, which leads to two state-tournament berths, the D-II scramble provides just one state berth. That means Damien’s win, which made it the ILH double-elimination tournament winner, puts the Monarchs in this position: Beat St. Francis in two straight games or the season is done.
St. Francis (14-5) simply has to beat Damien once. It is a format that has gained slight traction around the state, and the value of winning the regular season is rewarded heavily. That’s why the vibe in the Saints’ dugout after the loss wasn’t doom and gloom, even though they had also lost to Damien (13-5) earlier in the tourney, 11-6.
“Damien is playing loose. They were in the driver’s seat (of the ILH tournament), but the situation quickly changes. The next game is a championship game for us and an elimination game for Damien,” St. Francis coach Kip Akana said.
Saints ace Jared Yara had some of his normal groove on with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He also issued 6 walks. The first inning, when St. Francis scored a run, included two K’s and two bases on balls by Yara.
“Six walks is tough to defend. He wasn’t on his game,” Akana said. “But Yara on a bad day, we’ll take that.”
If fatigue has been a factor for Yara and any other player this late in the season, a bit of rest might be invaluable. Otherwise, it’s Damien, even with the three errors it committed in the win, that seems more consistent from top to bottom. Kayson Kajiwara, the No. 9 hitter, went 3-for-4 with three run-scoring singles. The second baseman/pitcher also recorded the last four outs for a save. Not bad for a sophomore.
If the Monarchs miss the state tourney, there will be no consolation in knowing they could be the best D-II program in the state not playing. That is the double-edged sword of playing in the lethal ILH, where competition is never-ending and post-season opportunities are few.