By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
HONOKAA — Kohala brought a lot of offense and enthusiasm to the ballpark, scoring in every inning, except for the seventh, fighting back when momentum was lost, and showing the type of fire that second-year coach Pono Nakamura was waiting for all season long.
In a wild game that lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes and featured a nice sunset shining down on the Hamakua Coast, the Cowboys triumphed over Honokaa 12-9 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II first-round baseball game at Honokaa’s Park and Recreation Complex.
Kohala (3-7 BIIF, 3-11 overall) will next play Kamehameha (7-2, 9-4) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Wong Stadium in the BIIF semifinals for a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
The Cowboys finished with an 0-12 record last season, and missed the playoffs. But a year later, they showed much better polish particularly in a playoff game against the Dragons, who beat Kohala twice during the season. Kohala (3-7 BIIF, 3-11 overall) made two errors, which led to one unearned run.
Honokaa (2-8, 3-11) was often its own worst enemy. Three errors opened the door to four unearned runs. There were eight wild pitches, and four led to runs. All the giveaways accounted to a six-run difference.
Still, the Dragons also showed a lot of fight to the end. They tied it 5-5 with a five-run outburst in the third inning. In the top of the seventh, shortstop Kazu Tolentino made a Derek Jeter defensive play, snagging a ball deep in the hole, jumping in the air and firing to first. He got Kohala starting pitcher Casey Steven at first.
It was a play that fired up Honokaa, which got a bolt of electricity when Austin Jardine cranked a solo homer over the 309-foot fence that surrounds the field. However, Kohala junior reliever Ricky Ching got a groundout and flyout to end the game.
“We fought to the end and brought our A game,” Kohala coach Pono Nakamura said. “We’ve waited the whole season for this type of effort. Earlier in the season if we lost a 5-0 lead, it would have killed our fire. It’s Ricky’s first game back and he lit a fire to the whole team.”
Ching pitched five up-and-down innings for the win, allowing seven runs (one unearned) on eight hits and one walk while striking out two. The only inning he went unscratched was the fourth, a key frame because Kohala held a 8-5 lead. Casey Stevens went two-plus innings and gave up two runs.
“It was a roller coaster,” Nakamura said. “But I credit our two seniors (Stevens and outfielder Jeremiah Kanehailua) and catcher Willy Perez and Ching. Perez is the heart of our team and those four guys kept the fire for us. Casey stepped up with two solid innings and Ricky was spectacular. He was dealing.”
Stevens batted 2 for 4 with two RBIs, Ching 2 for 3 with an RBI and freshman shortstop Kainalu Solomon was 2 for 3 with an RBI to lead the offensive charge for the Cowboys, who have two senior starters and a lot of youth. The freshmen starters are Solomon, second baseman Chance Pang, and third baseman Austin Racoma.
Ikena Juan pitched four innings and took the loss, showing an ironman effort with 117 pitches, including 42 pitches in the fourth. He gave up seven hits, five walks, struck out six and threw seven wild pitches, including three that led to runs. Jon Charbonneau threw the other two innings and yielded two unearned runs. He had one wild pitch, and that one hurt, too, bringing in a run.
Juan and Jardine each batted 2 for 4 with two RBIs, Damian Kaluhimoku 2 for 4, and Kama Richards 2 for 3 for the Dragons, who stranded 10 on base, including the sacks full in the first and two one in the second inning.
Kohala had an early run of good fortune, capitalizing when Juan had control issues. In the first, Juan loaded the bases and Pang and Perez scored on wild pitches. In the second, Juan struck out Kahuliau Kaai, but his wild pitch allowed Kaai to reach first. He later scored not on a wild pitch, but on Kanehailua’s fielder’s choice for a 3-0 lead.
Stevens provided the Cowboys a 5-0 cushion in the third when he had an RBI single, and later scored on a wild pitch. And even on defense, it seemed Kohala was catching breaks. Take the second inning, for example.
The Dragons had runners in scoring position with two out and Jardine golfed a 9-iron to second base. Pang charged in, tripped and dived. It was apparently Kohala’s day because Pang cleanly caught the ball — no problem at all with the pancake-saving catch.
Honokaa sent 10 batters to the plate in the third to tie it 5-5, banging out five hits. Robbie Abran walked with the bases loaded, and Ty Kauai followed with a well-placed two-run single over the shortstop Solomon.
In the fourth, the Cowboys leapfrogged for an 8-5 lead when Stevens slammed a two-run single, and Solomon followed with an RBI double, but the Dragons kept scratching Ching for runs, tagging him for one in the fifth, two in the sixth and then another in the seventh on Jardinej’s solo homer.
Then Ching finished off the Dragons. His teammates celebrated. Then with day quickly turning into night, Nakamura quickly summed up the postseason victory before jumping on the team bus for a long, happy ride home.
“This is a big win for the program,” he said. “I just liked our never-give-up attitude. That’s what we’ve been waiting for all season.”
Kohala 212 313 0 — 12 9 2
Honokaa 005 012 1 — 9 11 3
• Hawaii Prep 22, Pahoa 3: Koa Ellis went 3 for 5 with two doubles, and Cyrus Inglis went 3 for 4 in Waimea as the Ka Makani advanced to the BIIF Division II semifinals.
D.J. Sekiya pitched three innings to get the win for HPA (10-4), which will face Konawaena (11-2) at 11 a.m. Friday at Wong Stadium. He allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out four. At the plate, Ian Rice, Mike Nakahara, Kama DeSilva and Lii Purdy added two hits apiece.
Starting pitcher Luis Velez lasted 1 2/3 innings for Pahoa, which ended its season 0-14.
Pahoa 000 30 — 3 3 4
Hawaii Prep 376 6x — 22 19 1
Kohala wins state
Tiani Luga pitched a seven-hitter, and Kohala took advantage of eight Hana errors to claim an 11-4 victory at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II softball tournament Tuesday at Maui’s Patsy Mink Field.
With the victory, the Cowgirls (8-10) advanced to today’s state quarterfinals, where they will face Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Nanakuli (12-1) at 5 p.m.
The Dragons (6-5), the Maui Interscholastic League runners-up, will take on OIA No. 4 seed McKinley in an 11 a.m. consolation bracket game.
Kohala fell behind 2-0 after the first inning but capitalized on four Hana errors in the second inning, scoring six runs on just two hits to take the lead for good. Sheana Cazimero, who went 2 for 5 with two runs scored, highlighted the inning with a two-run single.
Luga finished 3 for 5 with an RBI and two runs scored while Tomiko Coito drove in two runs with bases-loaded walks.
In the circle, Ashlyn Van Zandt walked the first batter she faced before giving way to Luga, who allowed three runs — two earned. She struck out four and walked none.
Hana pitcher Jaynalee Hoopai, who also went the distance, took the loss. She allowed eight earned runs on 10 hits, striking out one and walking seven.
At the plate, Pakalana Helekahi-Cass went 3 for 4, while Nahe Kapoe-Smith had two RBIs.
Kohala 061 010 3 — 11 10 2
Hana 200 020 0 — 4 7 8