By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — For three years, Keaau catcher Ayanna Silva has fallen short of her softball dream: reaching the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
Last season, the Cougars were the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I runner-up to Hilo, and lost a state play-in game to Moanalua 13-0. Keaau didn’t make it to the BIIF championship her first two seasons.
Her wish finally came true on Thursday when Keaau rallied past Waiakea 8-5 in the BIIF Division I semifinals at the Cougars’ field, earning the league’s second and last berth to states.
Keaau right-hander Lohi Kamakea-Wong fired a five-hitter and retired the side only in the seventh inning, surviving all sorts of trouble, including a five-run fifth inning. She walked five, struck out three and stranded 10, doing, for the most part, a great impersonation of an escape artist.
“I’m proud of our team and the way Lohi pitched and our determination and communication, and the way we came back,” said Silva, the only starting senior. “Even when we were down, we kept our heads up. We came to the field ready, and we brought it. We did what we needed to do. We got the win and it’s pretty amazing. For four years, I’ve been trying to get this team into states. And to finally be able to go, it’s something to live for.”
Keaau (8-3 BIIF, 11-5 overall) will play Hilo (10-1, 14-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Walter Victor Complex for the BIIF championship. The Vikings defeated Kealakehe 17-2 in a five-inning TKO victory in the other semifinal.
At first glance, it appeared Keaau and Waiakea played to a statistical draw. Except for the final score, the hits and errors were equal. But not all errors are created equal. None of the Cougars’ miscues came back to bite them. The Warriors’ errors led to three unearned runs — the difference in the ballgame.
“That’s how softball is, but I liked the way our kids fought back,” Keaau coach William “Boy” Wong said. “The win was good and we came back with two outs too.”
But first, Wong, no relation to Kamakea-Wong, had to grit his teeth after his team lost a 2-0 lead, the first run on Shaniya Kamakea Wong’s RBI single in the first. Her cousin Lohi Kamakea-Wong singled and scored an unearned run in the third.
In the top of the fifth inning, Waiakea left fielder Cheylee Octavio’s patience sparked a five-run rally. She worked a full-count walk, after being down 0-2. Taylor Nishimura and Brandi Maximo singled before cleanup hitter Ariana Mareko walked to force in a run and cut Keaau’s lead to 2-1.
Then things got exciting, at least for the Waiakea fans.
Waiakea freshman Taylor Ogawa hit a grounder to first and the throw came home. But Nishimura, who’s got good wheels, easily scored. Next up was Melissa Tubera, who hit a grounder to first with the bases still loaded. Her fielder’s choice brought in a run and a throw to second, after another late throw to the plate, allowed Ogawa to scamper home.
It was 5-2, Waiakea ahead, and Keaau’s turn to respond in the bottom of the fifth, an inning that showed not all walks are created equal, too.
With one out, Waiakea senior Alexis Anzai beaned Leshey Makuakane. Then Lohi Kamakea-Wong walked and Shaniya Kamakea-Wong reached on an error. Silva and Sally Hanabaga drew back-to-back walks, chasing Anzai. Maximo replaced her and walked Cynthia Nakaima — the third straight bases-loaded free pass — to tie it.
In the sixth, the Cougars capitalized on two walks and one critical Waiakea error. Kanoe Maka led off with a walk, leadoff hitter Rylann Hacoba singled and Lohi Kamakea-Wong walked to fill the bases. Then Shaniya Kamakea-Wong reached on an error, bringing in the go-ahead run. Hacoba scored on a wild pitch and Silva capped the scoring with an RBI single to center for an 8-5 lead.
Shaniya Kamakea-Wong batted 2 for 4 with an RBI, Silva 1 for 3 with two RBIs to lead the Cougars, who will make their first trip to states since 2004, when they were the BIIF runner-up.
No one paired hits for the Warriors.
“Every loss this year is because of our errors,” said Waiakea coach Bo Saiki, mindful that Shaniya Kamakea-Wong scored the tying run when she reached on an error. “We beat ourselves.”
To give himself a bigger headache, Saiki could have mentioned that walks hurt, too. Keaau scored three runs off free passes, and drove in three runs with the bases loaded with walks. In contrast, the Cougars were much better at not beating themselves; the Warriors scored only two runs on walks.
Anzai pitched 4 2/3 innings for a no-decision. She gave up five runs (two unearned) on three hits and three walks and struck out two. Maximo, also a shortstop, went 1 1/3 innings in the loss. She allowed three runs (one unearned) on two hits and two walks, and whiffed one.
The two Waiakea seniors contributed to the program’s five-year BIIF title run from 2007 to ‘11. They both started as freshmen in 2010. Markeo, a catcher, started as a sophomore in 2011.
Anzai waited her turn to replace her sister Tiffany Anzai, who went 12-0 in 2010, as staff ace. She sat behind Chelsea Camello. The Warriors will look a lot different next season, losing ace Anzai, catcher and No. 5 hitter Mareko, cleanup hitter Maximo and left fielder Tubera, the fourth starting senior. First on the agenda is finding an ace.
It’s something the youthful Cougars already have, and a good one, too.
Lohi Kamakea-Wong is only a sophomore and she’s intent on pitching to her potential.
“I’ve dealt with getting in trouble before. I’ve gotten used to it,” she said. “My dad (Kealii Wong) helps me a lot. My dad pushes me to do my best. He always wants me to do better in every game.”
Waiakea 000 050 0 — 5 5 3
Keaau 101 033 x — 8 5 3
Hilo 17, Kealakehe 2: Usual reserve Masu Alessio drove in five runs and Aliesa Kaneshiro threw a one-hitter at Walter Victor Complex to help the Vikings to the final.
Hilo (10-1, 14-2), which already owns a berth at states, scored 10 runs in the third to break open a tight game that ended after four and a half innings because of the league’s mercy rule.
Alessio was 2 for 4 with a two-run double and a two-run single, and Shalyn Guthier finished 2 for 2 with two RBIs.
Kaneshiro walked five and struck out five.
Hilo will try to beat Keaau in the BIIF championship game for the second straight season. The Vikings won both of the teams’ meetings this season.
The Waveriders (5-6, 7-8) were hurt by six errors, including a pair that prevented starting pitcher Ashley Isisaki from getting out of the third inning. The senior struck out five, allowing 13 runs, five walks and hit three batters in 2 2/3 innings.
Lina Palmer-Kahanuinui finished in the circle and collected Kealakehe’s only hit.
Kealakehe 101 00 —2 1 6
Hilo 30(10) 4x—17 6 2
Kamehameha 5, Kohala 0: Mykala Tokunaga struck out 10 in a three-hit shutout to lift the host Warriors into the Division II championship game.
Already armed with a berth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament and winners of 14 straight games, Kamehameha (11-0 BIIF, 15-1) will host Konawaena at 1 p.m. Saturday as it tries to defend its title.
Lehua McGuire led the offensive attack for the Warriors with two hits and an RBI, Janelle Cameros drove in two runs and Kekai Wong Yuen finished with an RBI.
Tokunaga, a freshman, did not walk a batter.
Ashlyn Van Zandt took the loss for the Cowgirls (4-8 BIIF, 6-10), who still can get to states by beating Honokaa on the road in Saturday’s 1 p.m. third-place game.
Konawaena beat Honokaa 3-2 in the other semifinal.
Editor’s note: A story on the Wildcats’ victory against the Dragons is available at www.hawaiitribune-herald.com