HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou catcher Zachary Kometani tagged out Ryan Barayuga of Iolani at home plate yesterday. The Buffanblu beat the Raiders 4-3.
Punahou wraps up ILH
The Buffanblu come from behind to edge Iolani for the regular-season baseball title
After a series of stress-filled games, the Punahou Buffanblu can finally afford to breathe a deep sigh of relief.
Top-ranked Punahou assured itself a shot at going for its third straight state championship by capturing the Interscholastic League of Honolulu regular-season title with a 4-3 win over Iolani yesterday at Central Oahu Regional Park.
By winning by a single run for the fourth time in their last six games, the Buffanblu clinched the top seed in the league tournament, and more importantly, one of the ILH's two berths in the state tournament.
Punahou (11-2) had to sweat out a 2-1 win over Mid-Pacific on Wednesday just to force yesterday's playoff. The Buffanblu then rallied from a 3-1 deficit late in yesterday's showdown against rival Iolani to claim the title.
The Buffanblu scored twice in the fifth to tie the game and senior Maika Murashige drove in the game-winner with a two-out single to center in the bottom of the sixth.
"They're clutch. I'm just extremely happy for them," a relieved Punahou coach Eric Kadooka said. "They're going to get a chance to get back in the dance, that's all it was about.
"There was extreme pressure on these kids being two-time defending (state) champs, but this is a totally different team. ... The last two weeks was just unbelievable baseball. Winning four one-run games is huge."
No. 2 Iolani (10-3) will have less margin for error entering the postseason. The Raiders begin play in the double-elimination ILH tournament on Monday against Saint Louis and can qualify for states by either winning the tournament or again coming in second to Punahou.
"We've been tough the whole season," Iolani coach Dean Yonamine said. "Like I told them after the game, it's over, there's no sense we dwell on it. We've got to come back and play tough in the tournament. We have a lot of good arms so I feel good about our chances in the tournament."
Punahou sophomore right-hander Paul Snieder pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win.
Snieder stranded Iolani runners at second base in the fifth and sixth innings and added to the drama by walking a batter to put the tying run on base with one out in the seventh. But he struck out Travis Nishioka and got Wally Marciel to fly out to left to end the game.
"There was a lot of pressure, you just have to bear down and throw the pitches you need to throw," he said.
The teams traded runs in the first inning and Iolani struck for two in the third to take the lead. Marciel doubled down the third-base line to score Jarvis Nohara from third, and Brett Hasegawa followed with a bloop single to center to bring in Marciel.
The Raiders had a chance to add to their cushion in the fourth. With one out, Nohara flied out to left and Ryan Barayuga tagged up at third. But Punahou's Scott Hiramoto, who had just moved to left field after starting the game on the mound, made a strong throw to the plate to complete the critical double play.
"Right when I saw the ball come out of his hand I saw it was a perfect throw," Snieder said. "That was just what I needed right there. It was perfect."
With Punahou trailing by two, Murashige singled to lead off the fifth, advanced when Matt Suiter was hit by a pitch, and scored on Bucky Aona's single to left. A walk loaded the bases and Suiter scored the tying run when Jeeter Ishida grounded into a double play.
"They're a great team, You can't give them anything," Yonamine said. "So any kind of walk or error gives them that opportunity. And one-through-nine they're tough."
Hiramoto sparked Punahou in the sixth when his looper to right fell in. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Justin Ingalls and Reece Kiriu's groundout. Murashige then sent a fastball from Marciel up the middle for the go-ahead run.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit early in the count and just tried to hit it hard," Murashige said.
Said Aona: "We've proven ourselves in these one-run games and right now we have so much confidence in every aspect of our team, hitting, defense, pitching. We've all been able to step up in situations."
Its state-tournament spot secure, Punahou now has a bye in the first round of the ILH tournament and will play either Pac-Five or Kamehameha on Wednesday.
"We'll celebrate tonight and then it's practice tomorrow," Kadooka said.
At Central Oahu Regional Park
C.J. Johnson, Kelsey Outram (2), Wally Marciel (5) and Jarvis Nohara. Scott Hiramoto, Paul Snieder (4) and Zachary Kometani. W--Snieder. L--Marciel.
Leading hitters--Iol: Marciel, 2b, RBI; Reyn Nagamine, 2b. Pun: Maika Murashige, 2-3, RBI; Hiramoto, 2-3.