WAILUKU >> For JR Suehisa and the Mililani Trojans, success is worth repeating.
It was certainly, as the philosophical guru Yogi Berra once said, deja vu all over again. Just two weeks after scoring the winning run on a wild pitch in the OIA championship game, Suehisa scored from third base on a wild pitch as Mililani ousted defending state champion Baldwin 2-1 in eight innings on Friday night.
Mililani (19-6 overall) advanced to the final of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Baseball State Championships and will meet second-seeded Punahou, a 10-2 winner over Hilo in the other semifinal at Iron Maehara Stadium.
Suehisa’s instincts and speed belie typical statistics. He finds ways to be in the right place at the right time. He singled to lead off the eighth, went to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Vance Oshiro, and advanced to third when new pitcher Baba Varner threw a wild pitch.
“I said, ‘Look for something in the dirt. If you get a good jump, go.’ He’s got great instincts on the bases,” Trojans coach Mark Hirayama said. “For me to turn him back a little bit, he’s going to hesitate and we’re not going to make it. We didn’t hit very well. We didn’t put the ball in play very good. That was key that he got a great jump again. He’s a gamer. He’s always been a gamer since I’ve known him. He lays it all on the line every day.”
The blueprint for Mililani continues to be stellar defense, good pitching and opportunistic baserunning. Winning close games is a way of life.
But prior to Suehisa’s clutch play, both teams had opportunities to take the lead. Baldwin’s defense was highly resistant in the fifth inning. Hunter Faildo walked and was forced out on Jayton Pang‘s bunt. Waika Fukuda’s ground ball turned into a throwing error by third baseman Kaipo Haole.
With runners at the corners, pitcher Ben Ziegler-Namoa threw a ball to Micah Kaohu and the courtesy runner, Brant Ibara, was tagged out at home plate. A missed signal? Then Kaohu singled to right and here came Fukuda barreling around third base. Varner, who started in right field, unleashed a rocket throw home to catcher Cade Kalehuawehe, who tagged out Fukuda on a bang-bang play.
It was the ultimate defensive battle with two tall southpaws dueling, then replaced by right-handers. Oshiro was ready, once again. He moved from third base to the mound in the seventh inning and was on point with two scoreless, hitless innings. Oshiro struck out one and walked one, and hit one batter.
Kaiwi Winchester went six innings, scattering seven hits and keeping his team in the game.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, but sometimes you’re wildly effective. That’s a good hitting team. He got behind a lot and they hit the ball hard, but he kept them off-balance enough,” Hirayama said. “We kept it close and hoped for some luck.”
Oshiro had a perfect vantage point from the hot corner.
“He was outstanding. He threw strikes and let his ‘D’ work. That’s all we can ask,” Oshiro said of Winchester.
“Stats don’t matter, as long as the team gets the win. It’s a team effort,” Winchester said. “I told (Oshiro), go out there and just throw strikes.”
Oshiro went to his stand-by curve and fastball. Stay in the game, stick to the game plan, and let destiny take its course.
“It was a flashback from OIAs,” Oshiro said. “The same thing happened. In the end, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
“JR just does his job. He reads all the pitches and advances,” Winchester said.
Hirayama remembers the ’13 and ’14 Trojans well.
“We don’t have any superstars this year. They go out there and compete and try to win as a team. The 2013 team, that was a pretty good group. They were pretty physical. They did some things a little stronger, maybe. ’14, I think they’re similar to these guys. They didn’t have much as far as power, but if we can’t beat them with our size and strength, we’re going to play a little bit smarter. When your infield except for first base is 5-4 or smaller, you’ve got to play smarter, not stronger,” he said.
Baldwin’s physical tools and skills wowed Hirayama from the start.
“They’re athletic, strong and fast. They might be able to compete with a few college programs with their size and strength. They run well. We watched them last night and I felt a little bit nervous about them with their speed,” Hirayama said. “You’ve got to get rid of the ball a little bit quicker. Play a couple steps in to save yourself a little time. We settled down, turned a double play and made the routine plays after that. That’s all I can ask.”