HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou baserunner Shane Yoshiyama slid in safely ahead of the throw to Saint Louis shortstop Danny Higa during Saturday night's state championship baseball game.
Pitching kept Punahou on top
Shutting out a team that hits .376 just doesn't happen.
Not supposed to, anyway. Yet, that's what Punahou did in the final of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Division I Baseball State Championships with a 4-0 win over rival Saint Louis on Saturday.
Now the Buffanblu are five-time state champions, a status that may never be replicated. In fact, no other team had won more than three in row before the Buffanblu emerged as a dynasty for the new century.
Yet, just two weeks ago, it was Saint Louis that was hot, hot, hot. Ranked No. 1 for a large chunk of the regular season, the Crusaders dipped in the ILH postseason, losing to Punahou twice, 12-7 and 11-7.
Of all the factors in the state-tournament equation, Saint Louis' concerns were basic: fielding and pitching.
Pitching turned out to be a boon, with three outstanding performances leading into the final. Poor fielding -- 11 errors in the final two ILH games -- turned out to be a crisis relegated to the well-worn surface of Ala Wai Field.
Saint Louis did not commit a single error in four games on the synthetic turf of Les Murakami Stadium.
It was hitting, the strength of the Crusader program, that went AWOL in the final. Reece Kiriu was at a different level. He struck out eight and walked none, but it was also the quality depth of Punahou's staff that elevated a team that finished third in the ILH during the regular season.
Paul Snieder pitched the final 4-plus innings in a 9-8 thriller against Roosevelt. Junior Jeremy Fujimoto shut out Maui on just three hits.
Where Punahou missed the service of returning Star-Bulletin pitcher of the year Harrison "Jeeter" Ishida on the mound due to injury, the rest picked up the slack.
"You just work hard every day and overcoming what you're lacking," said Snieder, who was last year's position player of the year.
Punahou's precise execution was well-suited for a park that was home to Les Murakami's small-ball technicians. Tyler Young fouled off two bunts before socking a key RBI single in Punahou's four-run second inning.
"It's sad to say, but I've missed bunts before. I had to take a deep breath and refocus," said Young, who had a 3-for-4 game with two doubles against Roosevelt.
For Ishida, a fourth title in four years rose to a crescendo.
"This is definitely the sweetest title. It's the last game we'll ever play (at Punahou)," he said. "People ruled us out, but we just showed the character of our team."
Punahou coach Eric Kadooka never loses his willingness to take risks, even as criticism mounted during the regular season. One afternoon, he had his team devour pizzas and hamburgers, hoping to regain the magic that gave the Buffanblu success during an early-season trip to Katy, Texas.
Another time, the team marched back to campus after losing to nemesis Iolani by seven runs. That brisk walk from Ala Wai Community Park to Punahou -- 1.2 miles -- seemed to do the trick. Punahou went 5-0 at Ala Wai after that, launching a late-season run to the ILH and state crowns.
Kadooka, crafty and nimble enough to escape a Gatorade drenching by his players after the state-title victory, kept it all in perspective.
"They're all the same," he said of the five titles. "Saint Louis had a great season. For our league to have an all-ILH final is a testament to all our teams."