One strike away: Tuli nearly delivers

Alan Higuchi is looking ahead.

His Aiea softball team is serious running for the Division II state championship — even after losing to unbeaten and No. 8-ranked Nanakuli on Saturday in the OIA title game.

“They’ll be fine. I’m glad we have more games to play,” Higuchi said moments after the contest at Tiger Stadium at McKinley High School.

Na Alii (10-5) had a superlative effort from Poamaikaikeikiokalani Tuli, a left-hander who had pitched her team to an OIA title one year earlier. Despite missing six weeks to recuperate from a partial tear of the gastrocnemius muscle (calf) suffered when she slipped on home plate — Higuchi described it as muscle fibers tearing from the bone, causing displacement — Tuli rehabbed well and appeared to be at full strength. In fact, she was almost elite, basically silencing Nanakuli’s tremendous offensive attack.

Until the seventh inning, of course, when Nanakuli rallied for a 3-2 win. But Tuli was superb in those first 6 innings — four K’s, no walks, five hits and just one run allowed. She was one strike away from pulling off an incredible feat for Aiea. The left-hander also had three of her team’s four base hits against Golden Hawks’ ace Kanalei McCoy.

How Tuli recovers from Saturday’s outing will make all the difference for a team that lost to Nanakuli 21-0 without her during the regular season. With her, a return to the state final is very possible. Difficult, too. When Aiea won the OIA last season, stunning Nanakuli with its only loss, that gave Na Alii a first-round bye in the state tourney. As the OIA’s runner-up, Aiea will be unseeded. They’ll play four games if they reach the title game.

“Last year we had three HHSAA games and that was difficult,” Higuchi said.

The D-II state tournament will be played at Patsy T. Mink Field at Maui High School.

“As long as we compete and play our game, I’m fine. The other team earned it,” he said.

Nanakuli won last year’s state-title game against Aiea 6-5.


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