Kamehameha's Bell, Punahou's Sisler earn ILH golf titles
A confident freshman and steady senior found ways to rise to the occasion yesterday in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu individual golf championships at Mid-Pacific Country Club.
Kamehameha freshman Alika Bell claimed the boys championship by first tying Maryknoll's Ryan Hironaka at a two-round total of even-par 143, then defeated the senior on the first playoff hole with a clutch 4-footer for par.
On the girls side, steady improvement and play paid off for Katie Sisler. The Punahou senior edged her friend Hayley Young of Mid-Pacific on the final hole of the two-rounds-over-two-weeks format, 154-155 by staying cool in a tight situation.
Bell and three others entered the day trailing by four strokes as Hironaka shot an impressive two-under-par 69 in last Monday's first round at Oahu Country Club. It appeared to be more of the same yesterday -- Bell struggled to make progress in the early going with a one-over mark on the front nine, and Hironaka shot even at the turn.
Bell couldn't see the Spartans golfer's progress because the leader was in the group behind him, but the Warrior felt he needed to do something. At that moment, Bell, a four-sport athlete, told himself, "I've gotta get back some right now."
He went on to birdie three in a row, on Nos. 10, 11 and 12.
"That gave me the desire. I felt a lot of fight in me to bring it back and felt pretty comfortable with myself," said Bell, who would close with the day's best mark, a 2-under 70. He could only practice his putting at the clubhouse in case he was fortunate enough to go to a playoff.
Bell got his wish. Hironaka eagled the par-5 16th, but posted a double bogey on 17 to undo it and missed a close par putt on 18 that would have won him the championship. Hironaka looked up and winced.
"I can't let this get to me," Hironaka said afterward, "and gotta keep practicing for states."
Bell pulled his playoff tee shot into the border trees to the left, but was fortunate enough to have a clear angle at the green. Through luck or skill, he pitched his second shot almost to the identical spot he chipped from on the final regulation hole, on the fringe about 20 feet beyond the pin.
Hironaka put himself in a tough situation with a 6-footer attempt for par, and had to settle on a bogey. Bell, meanwhile, read the green well again, chipping to within 4 feet to set up his winning putt.
Now that he's won, the precocious Warrior has set his sights high.
"Coming into this tournament I told myself I'll be a freshman going in, maybe (win it) four years in a row," Bell said.
His optimism was mirrored by that of his coach, Wesley Wailehua.
"I think as a coach you always have high expectations for a freshman," he said. "I think in Alika's case, because he's such a true-born natural athlete, the next three years are going to be very exciting for this team at Kamehameha."
On the girls side, both Sisler and Young shot 6-over-par 78 for the day, but Young trailed by a stroke as a result of the first round.
Sisler's game has been marked by continuous improvement throughout high school. She won two regular-season tournaments this year after placing fourth in the ILH championships last year, and failed to qualify the year before that. Practice in tight situations has apparently paid off for her.
"Yeah, I'd say so," said Sisler, who will attend UC Davis in the fall. "I'm really glad that I could play well, especially at the end to come up and win. So I'm happy."
She faced a one-stroke deficit to Young, a sophomore, going into the 16th hole. But Sisler coolly sank a 12-footer for birdie to tie things up, and when both golfers bogeyed 17 it set the stage for a dramatic par-4 18th.
Both chipped their third shots to within feet of the pin. Sisler made good on her 5-foot par attempt, but Young, perhaps succumbing to nerves, hit her ball too hard on her 2-foot attempt to force a playoff. It bounced over the hole and out.
"She is (worthy)," a good-natured Young said emphatically. "She deserves it. Towards the end I was getting kind of nervous, on the 16th hole. (On 18) it was like this close (she spread her hands to her body width) and I missed it."
Punahou girls coach Ed Kageyama remarked that his player tends to thrive in pressure-packed moments.
"One of the best attributes of her golf game is her competitiveness," he said. "The tougher the situation, the more adversity she faces, the better she plays. With her behind coming down the stretch, it puts her in a situation where she feels more energized, and looking more forward to playing out the match."