Just when the Sacred Hearts momentum train seemed to be slowing, Jaime Toler and Jordyn Waracka got it back on track.
At full speed.
Toler’s two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning gave Waracka all the support she needed in the Lancers’ stunning 2-1 win over No. 1 Mid-Pacific on Wednesday.
They did it at the Owls’ field, ending MPI’s unbeaten run in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
Toler is just a freshman, a 5-foot-9 power-hitting third baseman.
“She’s real strong,” first-year head coach Nani Vegas said. “I throw batting practice and even behind the net, she scares me. She’s got the quickest hands I’ve ever seen.”
Vegas played at Kailua under legendary coach Howard Okita, then was part of the pioneering years of UH softball under Alika Thompson. She spent five seasons assisting Wade Okamura at Sacred Hearts before taking over this spring.
“Jaime sometimes thinks too much. That’s when she strikes out,” Vegas noted.
Toler’s bat is one of the reasons Sacred Hearts (5-5) has four of its last five games. Waracka’s arm is another key component. In her last four outings, she has allowed just three runs. She’s just a junior, the younger sister of former Kamehameha ace Amber Waracka.
“She’s a tough kid. She has a very different approach from her sister,” Vegas said. “She keeps batters off-guard and she did a number on Mid-Pac. It was absolutely her best game yet.”
Sacred Hearts’ three-game win streak ended with a 6-0 loss at Kamehameha on Monday.
“I always tell them, we’ve got to be sharp from inning 1 to 7. One bad inning in this league and you’re down big,” Vegas added. “It’s a reminder about hard work paying off.”
Waracka struck out one and walked two in the win over MPI, one of the most potent hitting attacks in the state. It was a turnaround from the first meeting between the teams, when MPI won 9-0.
“I’m hitting more of my spots. It was mostly my curve and my screwball. We work on that a lot,” she said. “They were popping up a lot. Our defense was on fire. I knew they had my back.”
Toler hadn’t gotten a hit in five plate appearances against MPI ace Keiki Carlos before she turned on an inside fastball for the home run. In offseason play, she hadn’t gotten a hit off last year’s all-state pitcher of the year. That made Thursday morning in the hallways of Sacred Hearts one to remember.
“When I was walking, everybody’s saying, ‘Congratulations!’ We’re going learn from it and still keep our composure. We’re going to work hard,” Toler said.
The Lancers don’t play again until Monday against Pac-Five. Six regular-season games remain on the schedule.
“It shows that if we work hard and believe in ourselves, anything can happen,” Waracka said. “We’re playing at a level we never had before.”
It’s a monumental feat for a program that has access to its “home field,” Crane Park, just twice a week. Starting in April, the Lancers have access to Crane just once a week. The rest of the time, they try to get field time at Palolo District Park. When it rains, they practicing on campus at Dorothy Macy Nobriga Gym.
“The long stretch of rainy days gave us mental toughness,” Vegas said. “We did a lot of conditioning. We hit in tubes we laid out in the gym. It’s amazing what you can do in a gym. The kids want it and they work hard.”
The ILH has two automatic state-tourney berths. A third berth will be waiting for the team that wins the postseason playoff tournament. MPI, Punahou and Kamehameha each have two losses.
For Okamura, who coached for 29 years, the win stands as one of the best he’s seen.
“I feel great,” he said. “They’re not surprised about winning. They go out expecting to win.”