By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Hilo High School’s Aliesa Kaneshiro knew she faced a major test against dangerous Keaau on Saturday and she’d have to rely on her teammates for support.
Kaneshiro then went out and pitched a five-hitter with 11 strikeouts Saturday as the Vikings defeated the Cougars 8-4 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I softball championship game at Walter Victor Complex.
The champion Vikings (15-2 overall, 11-1 BIIF) and runner-up Cougars (11-6, 8-4) will represent the league in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, scheduled May 7-10 on Oahu.
A year ago, Kaneshiro’s older sister, Ashlyn, was the Vikings’ ace and led Hilo to the D-I title, beating defending champion Waiakea in the semifinals and then talented Keaau in the final. But with Ashlyn graduating, the workhorse pitching chores fell on the sturdy shoulders of Aliesa this season and she delivered, helping the Vikings capture their second straight league crown.
“The big thing for me is that I never pitched in a BIIF tournament or in a season before, so I think I did good,” this year’s Viking ace said after beating the never-say-die Cougars before one of the biggest crowds at Victor to attend a prep softball game in the last two or three seasons.
“I want to thank my teammates for their support,” she said, her eyes glistening as the emotions of winning the league championship began to sink in.
Kaneshiro had been terrific through the first four innings — not allowing a hit and striking out six as she befuddled the Keaau hitters. Cougar Cynthia Nakaima finally broke up the no-hitter in the top of the fifth inning with a single and Shaniya Kamakea-Wong had a single in the sixth. But with Hilo on top 6-0, the Viking right-handed hurler seemed almost unbeatable on the warm afternoon as a light breeze blew right to left across the field.
In the bottom of the sixth, Hilo scored two runs on Jordyn Breitbarth’s two-run double to stretch the lead to 8-0.
But Viking head coach Leo Sing Chow and her young squad know that you can never count out Keaau until the final out is made. In the seventh, the Cougars underlined that fact again, scoring four times to pull to within 8-4 before Kaneshiro and her teammates recorded the third out in the frame.
Aliyah Coltes started the Keaau seventh with a walk and after two Kaneshiro wild pitches allowed pinch-runner Nakaima to motor to third base, Rylann Hakoba drilled an RBI single to make it 8-1. Leshey Makuakane had a bunt single to load the bases and Lohi Kamakea-Wong walked to plate a run as the Cougars pulled to 8-2.
Shaniya Kamakea-Wong followed with an infield single to make it 8-3. Keaau then closed to within 8-4 on a wild pitch. But Kaneshiro settled down and struck out a Cougar and got a short fly ball to right field to end the game.
In that long inning, Kaneshiro struggled and during a timeout the Viking infielders met with her on the pitching mound.
“They just told me they had my back,” Kaneshiro said. “They said we only need two outs, so let’s get it done. Their support helped a lot.”
When she watched Hilo’s right fielder catch the final out, Kaneshiro clenched her fist and let out a yell.
“I was relieved it was finally over and we won the championship again,” she said. “I’m happy.”
The Vikings were presented their BIIF championship medals right after the hard-fought game.
“I’m proud of Aliesa and this whole team,” Leo Sing Chow said. “We’ve had our struggles this season but the girls continued to work hard. It’s nice to see all their hard work pay off. It feels fantastic to repeat as the BIIF champions.”
She praised Kaneshiro’s grit on the mound.
“She had the right mentality today,” Sing Chow said. “She had confidence and was on the right page with the rest of the team. It was a team effort with everyone supporting each other. I’m very proud of the team and what they’ve accomplished so far this year.”
Kaneshiro limited Keaau to five hits — all in the final two innings — and earned the win. Besides the 11 strikeouts, she also walked three and tossed three wild pitches.
Lohi Kamakea-Wong pitched well for the Cougars and took the loss. She struck out two, walked two and had two wild pitches.
“Lohi pitched a helluva of a game,” Keaau head coach William “Boy” Wong said. “We just didn’t make the plays today.”
Sing Chow called the Cougars a “tough team.”
“They played a good game,” she said.
Shalyn Guthier led Hilo’s 12-hit attack with three hits, including a double and a run batted in. Kaneshiro (1 RBI) and Shyanne Higa-Gonsalves each had two hits. Breitbarth (2 RBIs) and Sharlei Graham-Bernisto also had doubles.
Shaniya Kamakea-Wong led Keaau with two singles and an RBI. Nakaima, Hakoba and Makuakane also had base hits off the hard-throwing Kaneshiro.
Keaau 000 000 4 — 4 5 3
Hilo 300 302 x — 8 12 3