Nothing that transpired in No. 10 St. Francis’ 4-1 loss to No. 3 Punahou on Tuesday at Goeas Field changed the way Saints coach Kip Akana views his team.
The Saints played error-free baseball against the Buffanblu and hung tight despite hitting 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They scratched across a run in the seventh inning with aggressive baserunning. Pinch runner Dean Foster stole third base, despite a four-run deficit, forcing a throw from the catcher to get away from third baseman Makana Murishige, allowing Foster to score.
The Saints left two runners in scoring position in the seventh inning and left nine on base total, but it was evident once it was over that St. Francis is poised to make a run at a D-II state crown.
“Throughout the season it seems as if we’d come up with timely hits and today I think we had six or seven standing strikeouts,” Akana said. “I know what our team is … just couldn’t get those timely hits.”
The loss dropped the Saints, ranked in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 for just the second time ever this week, to 6-3 in league play. It also was the final game for St. Francis against Division I opponents.
The three ILH D-II teams play each D-I team once before finishing up the season amongst themselves. St. Francis went 4-3 against the upper division with wins over Kamehameha, Maryknoll, Pac-Five and Mid-Pacific.
Now the Saints will shift their attention to winning their own division, and getting back to the Division II state tournament.
The Saints haven’t played in states since 2016 and have missed out on huge opportunities to make it in 2017 and ’18. St. Francis lost four straight games to Damien to end the year both times to miss out on states.
Why could this year be different?
“We’re a senior-heavy team,” Akana said. “A bunch of these kids started as freshmen and we surely weren’t surprised being competitive (against D-I opponents). With the kind of team we’ve got, there are no moral victories for us, but for the most part, I think we’re over .500 against D-I teams.”
Three players who started against the Buffanblu — shortstop Bubba Akana, center fielder JP Tilley and designated hitter Makana Poole — started in the Saints’ last state tournament game in 2016. All three reached base twice against Punahou.
The Saints also have shown the arms needed to get through playing games in multiple days.
Left-hander Kiyo Perry gave up just three hits and one walk in four innings and was pulled after 49 pitches to rest and allow Brayden Nomura to get in some work.
Perry drew quite a comparison from Punahou coach Keenan Sue.
“I think what he does is he’s got different fastballs. He kind of reminds me of (former Hawaii pitcher) Billy Blanchette,” Sue said. “Remember back in the day Billy had a curve ball, a changeup, a fastball, nothing overpowering, but he’d throw a (batting practice) fastball, then he’d throw his plus fastball and then he’d throw kind of a cutting fastball — he just had really good command of his fastball he could throw at different speeds. (Perry) does that and I think that’s what keeps guys off balance.”
The only tough part now is the lack of games. After playing nine in three weeks, the Saints will play just four over the next 23 days before the start of the three-team ILH playoff tournament.
“This team is far from its potential but we’re getting there and sometimes a game like this is a good wake-up call,” Kip Akana said. “We have four really good pitchers but Kiyo has been effective with his fastball, change, curve. He’s been able to keep hitters off balance. He can frustrate you when he’s on.”