2019 was the year of the splendid splinter.
Or, maybe, the year of the supreme swinger. Up and down the lineups of the state’s better teams, sluggers reached new heights. More so, positions that provided mostly defense and solid singles-oriented offense bashed their way into the spotlight more than ever.
Leading the way for the 2019 Star-Advertiser Softball All-State team is pitcher/center fielder Aleia Agbayani of ‘Iolani, the player of the year. The Cal-bound senior crushed what is believed to be state records of 16 home runs and 56 RBIs. Batting second in the Raiders lineup ahead of teammates like Kai Barrett, the versatile right-hander also stole 14 bases and scored 49 runs, the latter also possibly a new mark.
The Raiders, buoyed by elite hitting, fielding and offense — freshmen Ailana Agbayani and Allie Capello provided timely contributions on the mound and at the plate — won their first state crown in 19 seasons. They dethroned defending state champion Leilehua, which had gashed 12 homers in the state tourney.
In all, teams in elimination games combined for a dizzying 36 home runs in this year’s event. Last year, there were 12. Agbayani was sensational, going 10-for-13 with 11 RBIs, 13 runs scored, two homers, a triple, two doubles, three walks and two stolen bases in four games.
“She’s straight up legit,” Leilehua coach Wendell Au said. “Sometimes, you’re just born and raised with it. She’s got a dad who knows what it takes. Honestly, she’s a very formidable force. I’m a pitch caller, and there’s just some batters, all you’re looking for is to minimize the damage and limit where they’re going to hit. In the state championship game, it didn’t leave the yard and to a certain extent, that’s a win.”
It was a perfect-storm kind of season for Agbayani, daughter of former pro baseball player and ‘Iolani coach Benny Agbayani. Au sees Aleia Agbayani as a role model of sorts for his youngest student of the game.
“I have one more daughter playing in high school, and that’s what I want for her. The mental prowess to be a hitter, that’s the key. You can teach the proper swing plane, quick hands, all of that, but Aleia knows which pitches to throttle on. It’s all a hitter’s mentality,” he said.
Here is a synopsis of the first-team selections by coaches and media.
P Sierrah Kupihea, St. Francis, Sr.
The senior went 8-1 and collected a save as the Saints soldiered through the regular seasons. They split with ILH powerhouses Punahou, ‘Iolani, Maryknoll and Mid-Pacific, and swept Kamehameha. Then, they swept through the Division II state tourney with Kupihea leading the way. She struck out 67 and walked just eight in 52 innings and finished with a 4.27 ERA. Kupihea will pitch for Texas A&M-Arlington next spring.
P Ailana Agbayani, ‘Iolani, Fr.
Despite her youth, Agbayani was ready and willing every time she moved from shortstop to pitcher in relief of older sister Aleia. Ailana went 7-1 with one save, fanning 82 in just 58 innings. She walked just 27 and had an ERA of 4.50, and closed the year with a win over Waianae and a save against Baldwin at the state tourney. Next destination: Cal.
C Kaena Keliinoi, St. Francis, Sr.
Keliinoi became a two-time first-team selection after batting .560 with six home runs, 23 RBIs and 25 runs scored. Most of those numbers came against the cream of the ILH crop as the Saints played a blended D-I/D-II regular-season schedule before the playoffs. Keliinoi also had an on-base percentage of .624 and a slugging average of 1.020, and even stole four bases. Keliinoi will wear the green and white of Hawaii next season.
IF D’Asha Saiki, Punahou, Sr.
Saiki finished second to Aleia Agbayani in the position player of the year balloting after a mesmerizing season. She hit .579 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and 33 runs scored, somehow carrying the torch of a group of shortstops that may have been the deepest and most talented in state history. At one point, five games into the regular season, Saiki had reached base 19 times in 20 plate appearances. Saiki is heading to Cal, where she will reunite with her former Crush club teammate, Agbayani.
IF Alesia Ranches, Campbell, Sr.
A second-team pick as an outfielder last year, Ranches made a smooth transition to shortstop as the Sabers went 12-0 in the rugged OIA West. She batted .387 and socked five homers, drove home 18 runs and scored 27 more. Ranches had an OBP of .479 and also stole 14 bases. The versatile senior will play for Iowa State next season.
IF Maya Nakamura, Roosevelt, Sr.
Of all the offensive talent across the islands, Nakamura was one of only two on the first team to crack a .600 batting average at .607. Her senior season as a Rough Rider was eye-popping with six homers, 21 RBIs, 31 runs scored, a .577 OBP and a .783 slugging average. Nakamura signed with Hawaii.
IF Kiana Domingo, Leilehua, Sr.
Domingo’s cool defense at the hot corner was a major part of the Mules’ run to the state final. She batted /500 with five HRs, 21 RBIs and 22 runs scored. She finished the season with a .577 OBP and .783 slugging average. She is currently undecided on her college choice.
OF Aleia Agbayani, ‘Iolani, Sr.
Years of training have paid off for the multi-positional leader of the Raiders. Since seventh grade, Agbayani has spent summers in California playing for the heralded OC Batbusters, accumulating more than 50 games each year. Her skill as a southpaw pitcher set the tone every time out. She went 7-3 with a 3.98 ERA, one of the few that was below 4 runs in 2019. Her prowess with the bat and on the base paths was unprecedented: 16 HRs, 56 RBIs, 49 runs scored. She tallied a .636 batting average, .696 OBP and 1.455 slugging average, and also stole 14 bases. Agbayani will don the navy blue and gold of Cal next spring.
OF Allie Capello, ‘Iolani, Fr.
Capello put together one of the most impressive dual-position rookie seasons ever. She batted .423 with nine HRs, 42 RBIs and 27 runs scored, posting an OBP of .500 and a slugging average of .930. Normally an infielder when she isn’t pitching, Capello made the transition to right field. On the mound, she pitched 28-plus innings with a 5-1 mark and 4.22 ERA. That included a five-inning, complete-game win over Kealakehe in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. She struck out nine and walked three in her state-tourney debut on the mound.
OF Mahalo Akaka, Maryknoll, So.
The rangy center fielder with the big arm batted .387 with an OBP of .441 and a slugging average of 726. She smacked four HRs, drove in 26 runs and scored 18 more.
U Kai Barrett, ‘Iolani, Sr.
The versatile senior spent most of the season behind the plate, posting a performance that was simply powerful. Barrett batted .466 and blasted 12 HRs with 43 RBIs and 30 runs scored. She also had an OBP of .541 and a slugging average of 1.068, and added seven stolen bases. Barrett, who has played infield and has the versatile to play outfield, will play for Cal Poly next season.
U Gianna Araki, Leilehua, Jr.
In a deep season for skilled catchers, Araki was undeniably great. She pounded eight homers and drove in 23 runs for the Mules. Araki, better know to teammates as Gigi, batted .386, had an OBP of .500 and slugged .947.
U Shaylann Marie Grace, St. Francis, Jr.
Grace made the move from the Big Island to Oahu in the offseason and showed what she could do against a constant diet of elite ILH pitchers. After making big waves as a pitcher for Konawaena, she lined up at shortstop for the Saints and hit .545 with five HRs, 25 RBIs and 20 runs scored. She posted a 1.036 slugging average, including two triples, and stole three bases. With St. Francis’ doors now closed, Grace will transfer to Damien for her senior season.
COY Benny Agbayani, ‘Iolani
Agbayani guided the Raiders to the state championship and was voted coach of the year by media and his peers. ‘Iolani was a close second to Punahou during ILH play, then won all four games as an unseeded entry at the state tourney, defeating defending champ Leilehua 17-2 in the final.