When empires collide: ‘Iolani, Maryknoll clash for state crown

‘Iolani coach Benny Agbayani talks with the Raiders after a 10-4 win over Mililani in the state semifinal round . Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 11, 2022).

‘Iolani. Maryknoll.

After a certifiably wild first three days, Thrillsville and the Monster Mashers are in the final of the Datahouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships.

Maryknoll’s roller-coaster season has been about unmatched hitting in April and May. Leadoff hitter Carys Murakami has been en fuego with a 3-for-5 day against Baldwin (three runs, RBI, double) and a 3-for-4 performance against Kapolei (three RBIs, home run, double, four runs scored with a walk). Junior shortstop Nellie McEnroe-Marinas has been every bit the Oklahoma commit, going 3-for-3 (three RBIs, two runs, double and walk) against Leilehua, 3-for-4 (three RBIs, two runs, homer, stolen base) against Baldwin, and 2-for-4 (three RBIs, homer, run, walk) against Kapolei.

Pitcher Jenna Sniffen has been rock solid with a 2.47 ERA in the state tourney and two wins in three appearances. The sophomore is also batting .455 (5-for-11) with three RBIs. Ua Nakoa-Chung (.300, four RBIs) has provided invaluable versatility, pitching four shutout innings in the win over Baldwin in the quarterfinals.

The Spartans get a spark from the lower half of the lineup when Chloe Chun gets hot. The senior was 4-for-4 with three RBIs and an inside-the-park home run against Leilehua.

Maryknoll is in the softball state final for the first time, playing at peak level. McEnroe-Marinas and her teammates have even more motivation after dedicating their effort to the memory of McEnroe-Marinas’ late nephew, Xavier.

‘Iolani won state titles in 1999 and 2000 under Chris Shimabukuro, then captured the ’19 crown under coach Benny Agbayani. There was no state tournament in ’20 and ’21.

Ua Nakoa-Chung, Nellie McEnroe-Marinas, Jenna Sniffen and the rest of the Maryknoll Spartans are wearing stickers on their helmets in support of McEnroe-Marinas, whose nephew died recently. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 10, 2022).

Top-seeded ‘Iolani (23-4 overall) doesn’t always pile up big run totals, but coach Agbayani’s team combines finesse, speed, a little power and lot of grit. The Raiders clung to a 4-3 lead over Mililani on Wednesday before busting out four runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh for a 10-4 semifinal win.

Ailana Agbayani came through with another clutch performance. She gave up four runs on 10 hits in five innings, which sounds rough enough, but the Trojans had scored 13 against Kalani and 25 against Kealakehe to reach the semis.

“It feels great. It’s giving me deja vu. I feel like a freshman again,” said Agbayani, who played with older sister Aleiah on ‘Iolani’s state-title winner in 2019. “She always supports me and calls me after games.”

Agbayani was at her best under the most pressure. Down 8-4, Mililani loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth and scored on Cierra Yamamoto’s bases-loaded walk, but Agbayani struck out MacKenzie Kila to stop the bleeding.

In the seventh, the Lady Trojans loaded the bases with no outs, but Agbayani struck out the side. There have been pitchers who dominated more than Agbayani, but few had a clutch gene like this.

The BYU signee is batting .556 (5-for-9) at the state tournament with a home run, two doubles, six RBIs and two runs scored. In 10 1/3 innings in the circle, she has a 2.71 ERA with 16 strikeouts and two walks — and two wins.

“I owe it to Mia (Carbonell) for framing the ball without her behind the plate,” Agbayani said. “I owe a lot of my strikes to her.”

‘Iolani senior shortstop/pitcher Ailana Agbayani is at her best under pressure. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 111, 2022).

Pitcher/first baseman Allie Capello is batting .429 (3-for-7) with three doubles and an RBI, adding a stolen base and walk. In two starts and 4 2/3 innings pitched, The Pacific signee has a 4.50 ERA with three strikeouts and five walks.

Kaylee Matsuda’s hot bat has been a big factor in the lower tier of ‘Iolani’s lineup. The senior is 6-for-8 in two state tourney games with a triple, RBI and two runs scored. Kennadie Tsue is hitless (0-for-2), but has scored four runs and driven in another.

‘Iolani’s small game — the occasional game-breaking torrents of bunting expertise and daring base running — has been a monster of its own.

The scoreboard at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium reads “SPARTA” when Maryknoll (17-5 overall) takes the field. Since a 1-3 start to the ILH regular season, the Spartans have been nearly perfect: 7-0 against all opponents not named ‘Iolani.

The two titans have met five times in all; the Raiders have a 3-2 edge. ‘Iolani won 6-5 on Mar. 19. Maryknoll evened the score with a 7-4 victory on Apr. 5. In the ILH playoffs, the Spartans blanked the Raiders, 9-0, on Apr. 22. ‘Iolani then won 9-8 (Apr. 27) and 15-6 (Apr. 29) to secure the ILH title.

The season began, however, with some gamesmanship back at the Mililani Softball Classic in early March. Maryknoll was on fire with six wins in six games. So was ‘Iolani, which won seven tournament games in seven tries over that seven-day span. Instead of playing the Spartans for the tourney title, however, ‘Iolani took a pass.

Maryknoll played host Mililani in the final and won, 4-0.

Fast-forward to early April. Multiple teams filed a protest against Maryknoll for allegedly using an ineligible player. The ILH denied the protest and played on. (The league had no comment about the process and result.)

The player was on Maryknoll’s I-AA (Division II) roster, participated in a win over Punahou on Apr. 2, went back down to play in a D-II game against Sacred Hearts two days later, then returned to the D-I roster for a win over ‘Iolani on Apr. 5.

She did not play again until the state tournament. According to Maryknoll coach John Uekawa, the rule applies to teams that play in D-II and are eligible to compete in the D-II state tournament. Maryknoll’s I-AA team is not in that category.

That didn’t satisfy the protesting teams, not in terms of the spirit of the rule. But the ruling was final.

Now, nearly two months to the day ‘Iolani and Maryknoll did not play for the Mililani Classic title, they get to square off for all the marbles. What a roll it has been.

(Kyle Sakamoto contributed to this story.)


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