‘Iolani softball coach Dean Yonamine second-guessed himself after pulling Aleia Agbayani early in a loss to Pac-Five last week. So he had no doubts about leaving the freshman in the circle late in Wednesday’s ILH playoff game against Punahou.
The 10-5 loss to Pac-Five to close the regular season left the Raiders second in the ILH regular season standings, forcing them to play their way into the state tournament through the league’s single-elimination playoff. After edging Mid-Pacific on Monday, ‘Iolani stormed out to a lead on a rainy Wednesday afternoon then held off a Punahou comeback and clinched the ILH’s second berth in next week’s DataHouse/HHSAA Division I Softball Championship with a 7-5 win.
“That Pac-Five game (Agbayani) wasn’t really sharp and we decided to change her out and after that, honestly, the staff we were kind of kicking ourselves,” Yonamine said, “because we know that as the game progresses, her tendency is she gets tougher. She starts to find it a little later in the game.
“Like today, it was tough … but we knew she would battle back.”
Agbayani, the daughter of former Major Leaguer and current ‘Iolani assistant coach Benny Agbayani, struck out two and overcame six walks in a complete-game victory. She contributed a three-run double to ‘Iolani’s five-run outburst in the fifth inning and managed to fend off the Buffanblu in the late innings.
‘Iolani led 7-4 going into the seventh and when the Buffanblu put two runners on with one out, Benny Agbayani went out to for a chat with Aleia.
“He was telling me he believes in me and I can do this and I can finish this game strong,” Aleia said.
Punahou loaded the bases and scored on Elyse Nakamoto’s RBI ground out. With the tying runs in scoring position, Kennedy Ishii hit a hard grounder that ‘Iolani first baseman Marcie Nakamura handled for the final out to send the Raiders to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
“Throughout this whole season they keep battling,” Yonamine said. “They don’t panic.”
‘Iolani second baseman Leila Anoina delivered two key at-bats late in the game, driving in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning with a two-out single and lifting a sacrifice fly to right field in the sixth to give the Raiders a three-run cushion going into the seventh. Kenedi Lopes contributed an RBI ground-rule double in the fifth prior to Agbayani’s bases-clearing double.
For Benny Agbayani, watching the game unfold from the dugout is tougher on his nerves than being on the field.
“It is stressful,” he said. “Playing is easy.”
“It is special,” he said of watching Aleia perform under pressure. “It’s all about competing and me and my wife always tell her, ‘you have to go out there and compete, and it takes a team effort to win the ballgame.’ ”
Agbayani is in his third year in the ‘Iolani program, moving up to the varsity after spending the last two with the intermediate team.
“I love it, just giving back,” he said. “We’ve got so much talent here in Hawaii. We just have to get them to the next step to the college level.”
He said Aleia got started in softball at age 9 and she spends a sizable chunk of her summers playing travel ball with the Batbusters club based in California.
Thanks to Wednesday’s win, ‘Iolani still has a state tournament appearance to prepare for before looking ahead to the summer.