Of all the key elements that separate title contenders from competitive, yet lower-tier teams in the merciless Interscholastic League of Honolulu baseball kingdom, clutching up at the plate is certainly one.
There’s more to it, naturally, than stranding 11 baserunners and batting 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. But, as Maryknoll coach Randy Yamashiro said after a 6-1 loss to No. 3 Saint Louis on Tuesday, it’s been a struggle. Coming through with two-out base hits has not been easy for a Spartans squad that has been defensively sound. In the gauntlet of ILH baseball, the difference between a five-run win and a close game is often a couple of key hits and defensive plays.
That’s what makes the jump from Division II, where Maryknoll won state titles for the past three seasons, to ILH D-I, so daunting. The young Spartans are close to becoming one of those teams, but inexperience is a factor.
Maryknoll had its share of defensive gems: a diving, parallel-to-the-ground stab by shortstop Shane Himeda on a line drive off the bat of Kaiolohia Perreira-Alquiza in the second inning and a diving stop by third baseman Kaliko Thomas on a sharp grounder by Stephens in the sixth.
The Crusaders were, as they often are, clutch at the plate. They left only three on base. They also batted 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Defensively, they turned two double plays in the fourth and fifth innings — the final two for starter Royce Hirayama (no runs, five hits, two K’s and three walks in 5 innings) — on 5-4-3 and 6-4-3 twin killings. The fourth-inning capper doused the potentially biggest flame for Maryknoll; the Spartans had the bases loaded with no outs against the senior with nine lives, Hirayama.
Saint Louis coach George Gusman was simply glad to get past the dangerous Spartans. At 9-4, they’re still in range of first-place Mid-Pacific.
“I’m very happy. If we can’t catch Mid-Pacific, we want to at least finish second (in the regular season),” he said.
MPI is 11-3 with a game against Kamehameha on Thursday to end its regular season. Saint Louis is hoping for the Owls to lose that game while beating Punahou on Thursday and ‘Iolani on Friday.
The top two finishers will have first-round byes in the league playoffs. The third-place finisher will meet the sixth-place team and the fourth-place squad will face the fifth-place team in single-elimination matchups.
The second round will follow with a double-elimination format.