Two Cinderellas enter, one Cinderella leaves

Waipahu's Kobe Russell slides home in the third inning to give his team a 2-0 lead over Kalani in the OIA Division I baseball playoffs at Hans L'Orange Park. Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 23, 2016)
Waipahu’s Kobe Russell slides home in the third inning to give his team a 2-0 lead over Kalani in the OIA Division I baseball playoffs at Hans L’Orange Park. Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 23, 2016)

Mirror images, maybe.

Just not mirror results.

When the Waipahu Marauders stepped into one of the vintage parks for baseball in the islands on Friday, it was as good as Cinderella arriving at the ball. After a 3-9 regular season in the OIA West, the Marauders knocked off Moanalua and Mililani in the first two rounds of the OIA playoffs. Kalani is on a fairy-tale run of its own, now 13-2 after pulling out a 3-2, eight-inning semifinal victory.

Waipahu took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Jaron Sugimoto singled and Cole Phillips was hit by a pitch. Kobe Russell (2-for-2) then drilled a single to left, scoring Sugimoto from second. Kalani starting pitcher Duke Fujii (eight innings, nine K’s, 2 BB) escaped further damage with two runners in scoring position.

The Marauders, playing in their home town, added a run in the third. Russell blasted a leadoff triple to right and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by starting pitcher Michael Price for a 2-0 lead.

The Falcons scored twice in the bottom of the third. Kohl Suehiro led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Noah Nakamura and moved to third on a wild pitch. Suehiro scored on a single to left by Hunter Lau, cutting the score to 2-1.

After Hunter Lau stole second base, Jarryn Wee then singled to center, plating Lau to tie the game at 2.

Waipahu got a single by Sugimoto and a double by Phillips with one out in the top of the seventh, but after Fujii intentionally walked Russell, he struck out Steven DeSilva and got Khaine Viliamu on a grounder back to the mound.

Then came Suehiro’s bases-loaded, one-out single in the bottom of the eighth to bring Reece Kakugawa with the winning run.

It’s been 35 years since Kalani won the OIA baseball crown. The standout that season was a future major leaguer: Lenny Sakata.

“I talked to him before the season,” Falcons coach Shannon Hirai said. “Maybe we can have him talk to the team before the (championship) game. I’m proud of the kids for sticking together. A lot of the close games have helped us. They believe in each other.”

It almost wasn’t to be for Kalani (12-2), the top team from the OIA East, against the Cinderella Marauders (5-10). Both teams had already clinched state-tournament berths. The teams appeared to be near clones of each other, playing error-free ball until Ballesteros’ errant pickoff throw.

“Hats off to Kalani and Coach Shannon and their staff. They made the big play when they had to,” Waipahu coach Jared Abreu said. “Someone had to win and someone had to lose.”

Phillips was a standout for Waipahu, involved with four outs by Kalani on the base paths, including three in the second inning. He was 1-for-3 at the plate with a double. He held an award presented after the game by OC-16.

“This doesn’t belong to me,” Phillips told the team after the game. “To me, this belongs to all of us.”

“They redid the field and there’s no bad hops,” Abreu noted. “The atmosphere here, being in the semifinals, on TV. If we’re in another park, Kobe’s hit (a triple in the third inning) is a home run.”

The fence in right-center is 390 feet away, a concession to the trade winds that normally blow that way.

Suehiro was 2-for-4 with a run along with that clutch, walk-off single.

“I don’t remember when he last got a hit,” Hirai said. “He was just due.”

The post-game celebration was electric, understandable for a program that has been in a title drought for more than three decades. But there’s a title game coming against another giant killer: Kailua.

“Kohl, I’ve got one thing to say to you,” assistant coach Nat Galacia said as the Falcons filed out of the facility. “Grab the fungo.”


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