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Thursday, April 29, 2004



HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS



Crusaders hang on
to beat Buffanblu


Even with his team leading by four runs heading into the bottom of the final inning, Saint Louis baseball coach Scot Paiva couldn't relax just yet. Not with Punahou's Mark Veneri due for a turn at the plate.

The Crusaders had just broken a 6-6 tie on Marc Nobriga's three-run homer and Ryan Sasaki's RBI double. So when Veneri stepped into the batters box with two runners on in the bottom of the seventh innning of yesterday's Interscholastic League of Honolulu playoff game, Paiva was grateful to have that little extra cushion.

"Every run is crucial," Paiva said. "We were playing for one, we were fortunate to get four."

Veneri slammed his second three-run homer of the game to bring Punahou to within a run. But Sasaki recovered to retire the next three batters as Saint Louis hung on for a dramatic 10-9 victory over the Buffanblu at Iolani School's field and advanced to face Mid-Pacific today for the ILH regular-season title.

The Crusaders and Owls meet for the crown at 3:45 p.m. at Ala Wai Field.

Saint Louis twice saw three-run leads disappear on Punahou homers yesterday, but the Crusaders' outburst in the top of the seventh proved just enough to hold off a persistent Buffanblu squad.

"That was the most exciting game I've played in my life," said Nobriga, whose two-out shot over the left-center field fence gave Saint Louis the lead in the top of the seventh.

Sasaki added the pivotal insurance with a double down the right-field line to score Kaulana Kauleinamoku and picked up the win on the mound by shutting down the Buffanblu after giving up Veneri's second homer.

"He grew up big time this year," Paiva said of the sophomore. "Today he got to see what the pressure is all about being on the hill in a big game. Luckily he came through for us and beared down when he had to get the three outs."

Punahou's Kasey Ko hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to tie the game at 3 and Veneri's first homer knotted the score at 6 in the fifth.

After the Crusaders took a 10-6 lead, Sasaki hit the first two Punahou batters of the seventh and plunked Veneri on the arm. But the umpire ruled that Veneri leaned into the pitch and kept him at the plate. Veneri slammed the next pitch over the center-field fence.

"I've been struggling of late and I've just been trying to find my zone," Veneri said. "I've been hitting it hard, it's just been going to people. Today I took a new approach out there and I figured anything in my zone, anything in my area, just go out there and swing hard."

Said Nobriga: "When Mark Veneri comes up you know something big's going to happen. Veneri clutched up big time today. It was unreal."

Sasaki settled down to induce a grounder to shortstop and a flyout. Punahou's Kaohi Downing gave the Crusaders another scare by lifting a flyball to center, but Kelii Zablan tracked it down just in front of the fence to end the game.

At Iolani School field
Saint Louis (12-3) 030 030 4 -- 10 8 0
Punahou (11-4) 001 230 3 -- 9 8 3

Edwin Apostol, Ryan Sasaki (5) and Jowen Murray-Thornton; Shaun Kiriu, Kasey Ko and Robert Kurisu. W--Sasaki. L--Ko.
Leading hitters--StL: Sasaki 2b, RBI; Murray-Thornton 2 RBIs; Marc Nobriga 2-4, HR, 4 RBIs. Pun: Kiriu 2-3, RBI; Mark Veneri 2 HR, 6 RBIs; Ko HR, 2 RBIs.

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