Punahou nears title
For the three-time defending state champion Punahou baseball team, the magic number is down to one.
The top-ranked Buffanblu are one win away from advancing to the state tournament after dominating No. 2 Iolani 9-1 yesterday afternoon in the championship round of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu postseason tournament at Ala Wai Field.
The Punahou victory sets up a pivotal rematch between the same teams tomorrow at Ala Wai Field for the ILH tournament championship at 3:45 p.m.
Because the Buffanblu (15-1) claimed the regular-season championship with an unblemished 12-0 record, a win tomorrow would allow Punahou to clinch both the tournament and overall league crowns, and most importantly, the league's lone state tournament berth.
The Raiders (12-4) have a much tougher road ahead. They must win the tournament tomorrow to force an overall league title game on Friday. Then, it has to win that game as well as another on Saturday because, as league officials determined prior to the season, the regular-season championship is weighted more than the tournament title, and thus, the regular-season champ must be beaten twice by the tournament winner to earn the overall championship.
"We're going for the kill on Wednesday," said Punahou's victorious starting pitcher Jeeter Ishida. "It would be nice to take the weekend off and give all our pitchers a rest. The (less) games we play the better for us at this point."
Ishida, last year's Star Bulletin Pitcher of the Year, turned in another stellar performance by scattering three hits and striking out six in 5 2/3 innings. The junior appeared to have enough energy and effectiveness left to finish the game, but the Buffanblu coaching staff chose to let reliever Reece Kiriu pitch the remainder of the contest to both give him some work, and to save Ishida's arm for a playoff push.
"The schedule forced us to do things we normally wouldn't do," said Punahou coach Eric Kadooka of the decision to remove Ishida after he threw 79 pitches -- 51 of which went for strikes.
"Jeeter was throwing a ton of strikes and getting guys out, and we're very fortunate to have someone like that. (The move) wasn't made on a (pitch) count, but we felt like we have to get other guys in there to be successful, and knowing that this (tournament) comes down to every game."
The Buffanblu avenged last week's 3-1 loss to Iolani -- its lone defeat in league play -- by taking their frustration out on an ineffective Raiders pitching staff. Punahou scored five runs in the first four innings to take a comfortable 5-1 lead, and chased Iolani starter Kelsey Outram after he lasted just three innings. While five Raiders pitchers combined to allow a respectable seven hits, they also issued nine walks and hit three batters.
"Our guys did a good job of hitting their No. 1 guy," Kadooka said of the Buffanblu's aggressive approach at the plate. "He has three quality pitches and throws strikes, but we were able to get some runs early and that was big."
Buffanblu shortstop Joshua Bninski went 3-for-3 at the plate, including an RBI single in the first, a two-run double in the third and three runs scored.
Center fielder Matthew Suiter also kept busy on the basepaths with a double, triple, stolen base and three runs scored.
"We have one of the best lineups in the state, and I always feel like I'm winning on the mound because they give me a lot of confidence to just throw the ball over and have my defense do the job," Ishida said.
At Ala Wai Field
Kelsey Outram, Jon Okada (4), Ronnie Hirokawa (5), Robson Bunda (6), Dustin Shitanishi (6) and Grant Iwamoto. Jeeter Ishida, Reece Kiriu (6) and Zachary Kometani. W--Ishida. L--Outram.
Leading hitters--Iol: Case Miyahira RBI; Darren Sonobe 2b. Pun: Matthew Suiter 2-3, 2b, 3b, 3 runs, sb; Joshua Bninski 3-3, 2b, 3 RBIs, 3 runs; Paul Snieder 2-3.