By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Ayanna Silva never gets tired of catching or providing encouragement for her Keaau softball team, which expects ironman production from her and ace pitcher Lohi Kamakea-Wong.
The senior catcher and sophomore right-hander rarely come out of the lineup, and their durability will be needed in the Cougars’ quest for their first Big Island Interscholastic Division I championship.
They helped Keaau topple Waiakea 6-2 in a showdown between title contenders Thursday that didn’t count in the standings, but held significance anyway, at least for the Cougars, who are rolling along during the first half of the regular season.
Only second-round games between eastside teams count in the standings, same thing with the westside schools. When the sides play each other, those games count in the standings.
That said, Keaau is 1-0 in the BIIF, after its win over West foe Kohala last week, and 3-0 overall including the non-counting games. Waiakea is still spotless in the league, sitting at 0-0 and 1-1 in the tune-up games.
The BIIF regular season champion in each division earns the league’s automatic berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournaments.
Last year, Hilo had the league’s lone Division I guaranteed state spot. Keaau lost to Moanalua 13-0 at home in a play-in game to states. The BIIF has had three representatives to the Division II state tourney the last six years.
The new “1.5” schedule is not the only change. The league has discarded the East and West seeding system — that offered Division I Kealakehe free entry into the semifinals and a right to host — in favor of a top seed vs. lowest seed format. For Division II, it’s a six-team tourney with the top two seeds drawing first-round byes.
Silva didn’t give all the counting and non-counting games a second thought. She just liked the way the Cougars prevailed, especially the work of her pitcher. Kamakoa-Wong fired a three-hitter but walked eight (cleanup hitter Ariana Mareko twice intentionally), threw four wild pitches, and struck out three. She gave up two unearned runs and stranded the bases loaded twice, in the third and sixth innings.
“It doesn’t matter if that first-round game doesn’t count,” said Silva, who’s caught every single game since her sophomore year. “We were going to try our best. I’m very proud of our team and the defense. We held each other up. No matter what, we got to balls and stopped innings. No matter if we win, we want to be humble. But knowing we beat Waiakea takes us a step up in our game.
“I give props to Lohi for being our No. 1 pitcher and only pitcher. She pitched in the two games prior to this and in all of the junior varsity games. She always gives her best and never gives up. Before the game, we talked about believing in ourselves. We believed from the get-go and got the win.”
Rylan Hakoba batted 2 for 4 with an RBI, Shaniya Kamakea-Wong 2 for 4 and Silva was 1 for 3 with an RBI for the Cougars, who managed just seven hits but were aggressive on the bases, scoring on a wild pitch, a double steal of home, and a forceout at first base that was fun to watch.
That was in the sixth when Lohi Kamakea-Wong walked with out one. Her cousin Shaniya Kamakea-Wong singled and Leshey Makuakane hit a foul ball flyout to first. After the catch, Lohi broke for third and was safe. Shaniya started late and went to second. Safe again.
Sensing another opportunity, Lohi dashed for home and beat the throw. Shaniya swiped third and stayed there, giving the cheering fans a chance to catch their breath. The double steal of home came in the fourth. Keaau finished 4 for 4 on stolen base attempts.
Alexis Anzai took the loss. She allowed six runs (one unearned) on seven hits and four walks, and struck out six. She had five wild pitches and kept putting out brush fires, retiring the side only once in the fifth inning; Kamakea-Wong retired the side in the seventh, and spent the rest of her time pitching out of trouble.
Even when Kamakea-Wong doesn’t have her best stuff and Silva is squatting and roasting under a relentless sun for well over two hours, the Keaau catcher is having a picnic and a good time.
“All I try to do is motivate my pitcher. If she’s down, I try to pick her up,” said Silva, a walking disabled list with a pulled quad muscle and bruised fingers. “In my junior and sophomore years, I caught all the games. I never get tired of it. I used to play outfield, but one day I caught and there was so much action. I loved it.”
Meanwhile, Waiakea couldn’t capitalize despite eight free passes. Runners even moved into scoring position with four wild pitches. Keaau made three errors, which led to two unearned runs, but when the bases were packed clutch plays were made.
In the third, Taylor Ogawa drilled a line shot, but second baseman Shaniya Kamakea-Wong caught the ball and eliminated the bases-loaded threat. In the sixth, the Warriors filled the sacks again and No. 3 hitter Brandi Maximo got a good pitch to hit and ripped a bullet to center, but Kanoe Maka turned it into an out, and another bases-packed lost opportunity for the visitors.
“We couldn’t do anything,” Waiakea coach Bo Saiki said. “Hopefully, we’ll improve.”
That’s what Keaau coach William “Boy” Wong likes about Silva.
“She’s my leader and catcher,” he said. “I needed a catcher when she was a sophomore and she volunteered. She’s grown as a player. She’s made a big improvement in her hitting and catching.”
Like Silva, Wong figures a win is a win — even if it doesn’t count in the standings.
“For us, it’s a big win,” he said. “We know we can play with anybody and we can compete. I told the girls to stay humble and learn from this win.”
Waiakea 010 010 0 — 2 3 2
Keaau 012 102 x — 6 7 3
• Hilo 16, Ka’u 3: At Victor Stadium, Shalyn Guthier had two hits and three RBIs and Reisha Hoopii-Haslam two hits and two RBIs to lead the unbeaten Vikings (3-0 overall, 1-0 BIIF) over Ka’u (0-3, 0-1).
Guthier and Hoopii-Haslam led the nine-hit Hilo attack while Aliesa Kaneshiro clubbed a triple.
Kaneshiro also started and went the distance on the mound. She pitched a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and five walks to earn the win. Trojans starter Jallahen Willy took the loss, with relief help from Shaylin Navarro.
Cierra Kaopua had an RBI triple and Shylee Tamura a single for Ka’u’s hits.
Ka’u 003 00 — 3 2 5
Hilo 640 6x — 16 9 2
• Honokaa 12, Konawaena 2: Sophomores Jasmine Castro and Kayla Requelman each had two RBIs in Kealakekua for the Dragons, who took advantage of six walks to score nine runs in the top of the first.
Castro finished 4-for-4 with a double, and Requelman was 2-for-3 with two doubles.
Junior Kayla Kalauli pitched four innings to get the win for Honokaa (2-1 overall, 0-1). She gave up two runs on five hits and four walks.
Junior Anu Binney took the loss for the Wildcats (1-1, 1-0). In an inning, she surrendered six hits.
At the plate, junior Pualani Ubando went 2-for-2 with an RBI single in the third inning, and senior Hero Wooching had a run-scoring single in the fourth. Senior Chrysa Dacalio added a triple.
Honokaa 900 0 3 — 12 8 2
Konawaena 001 10 — 2 5 2
• Kealakehe 16, Hawaii Prep 10: Trailing 9-0 after three innings in Waimea, the Waveriders erupted for 10 runs in the top of fourth and five in the fifth for a come-from-behind victory.
Kealakehe (3-0 overall, 0-0 in the BIIF) had just two hits in the fourth, but took advantage of seven walks. In the fifth, three Waveriders scored from third base on wild pitches.
Junior Lina Palmer-Kahananui, who pitched the final three innings, earned the win. She gave up just one hit, walking none and striking out two.
At the plate, senior Ashley Isisaki and freshman Arlene Musrasrik each had two hits and two RBIs.
HPA’s Kawena Lim-Samura, who started the contest with three scoreless innings, took the loss. She yielded 13 runs on five hits, striking out nine and walking 12.
Offensively, Camille Kiyota went 2-for-5 with two RBIs for the Ka Makani (0-3, 0-1).