By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Mykala Tokunaga was a pitching-and-hitting dual threat for Kamehameha, which handed the ball to the freshman right-hander to win big games, and stuck her in the cleanup spot in the batting order to power the offense.
Despite a burden of responsibility on her shoulders, she consistently delivered, sparking the Warriors to their second straight Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II softball championship.
Tokunaga won all of her team’s crucial games in the circle, and batted .500 with two homers and 25 RBIs to help Kamehameha finish with a 12-0 BIIF record and 16-1 overall. Her only loss was against Hilo in the first round, which didn’t count in the league standings.
In the circle, she was 9-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 71 innings. She allowed 71 hits, walked 35 and struck out 71.
She was named the BIIF Division II Player of the Year, in a vote by the league’s coaches, becoming the first freshman pitcher to grab the honor since Kamehameha’s Kiani Wong in 2009. Wong is a freshman on the University of Hawaii softball team.
“I’m surprised I got it because there are a lot of seniors,” Tokunaga said. “I had a lot of support from my teammates. A lot of hard work paid off, especially when Kiani came home and practiced with me. She’s an example for me and we work off each other. My batting came around at the right time.”
Tokunaga goes to Kaha Wong’s hitting school. She credited him for refining her swing, Kamehameha coach Gary Ahu for pushing her and the team in the right direction, and her parents for their emotional support.
“They’re my No. 1 fans and they help me with everything,” she said of parents Peggy and Mike Tokunaga, who runs S. Tokunaga Store. “Whenever Kiani’s home, we’re partners at the batting cage and in the morning we’ll go and run and field balls. I go to the batting cage every week and coach Kaha helps me with my power swing, mostly with my hips and legs. That’s what we’re trying to work on more.”
Ahu knew he had something special in Tokunaga when he first saw her. She’s 5 feet, 8 inches and looks like she could fit in as a basketball forward or soccer goalie, positions that require precision and flexibility, two pitching assets when she stretches her body like a rubber band and whips the ball on the corners.
“She’s a natural athlete. She gives 100 percent every time she plays,” Ahu said. “She can hit, run and with her pitching I knew we’d be tough. When I first saw her, I knew she was the best pitcher on the island already.
“We’ve got her for the next three years. She can exceed what she did this year. During the summer, she usually goes to Honolulu to play for a club.”
Joining Tokunaga on the first team was teammate Lehua McGuire (.407 batting average), a senior outfielder. Kamehameha senior first baseman Elizabeth Kia (.373), senior shortstop Namele Naipo-Arsiga (.224), senior outfielder Codi Kualii (.298) and junior utility Gayla Ha-Cabebe (.302) made the second team.
“Lehua was the sparkplug of our team. That’s why she was our first batter,” Ahu said. “All the girls from the second team played good defense and hit the ball. We scored a lot of runs from the No. 1 to 9 spot in the lineup. Everybody did their job.”
Rounding out the first team are Kohala first baseman Tiani Luga, Honokaa second baseman Kayla Kalauli, Konawaena third baseman Chrysa Dacalio, Honokaa shortstop Kaitlin Agustin, Honokaa catcher Kayla Requelman, Kohala outfielder Sheana Cazimero, Honokaa outfielder Allie Shiraki and Hawaii Prep utility Camille Kiyota.
The Warriors finished sixth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament on Maui, where Tokunaga flashed her hitting skills. She batted .455 (5 for 11) with three RBIs in three games.
“When you play at states, you have to play perfect. In the first game (8-7 loss to Kauai), we were nervous and made a couple of errors,” Ahu said. “We had a chance to win the game. The ball didn’t bounce our way.
“The books tell you how the season went. We beat all the Division II teams in the league. I’m proud of our girls. I never expected to win all the games in Division I (that counted in the BIIF standings). It was because of Mykala’s pitching. She was a big help.”
The Warriors will have a lot of holes to fill next season with the loss of six starting seniors. The other starters were designated hitter Janell Cameros, and third baseman Jaylen Shiroma, who received honorable mention.
Surrounded by seniors, Kamehameha’s freshman pitcher stepped in, had a smooth transition and did her job. Her production led to another league title, a top honor and set the benchmark in place, with room for improvement. She’ll be the building block for a team that will look a lot different next year.
But as long as Tokunaga is in the pitching circle, Ahu knows that’s the best way to win games and BIIF championships. After all, an ace is the trump card in the deck. And Tokunaga was the best of all the league’s aces.
“We’ll be rebuilding next year,” he said. “But in softball, if you’ve got the pitching you can work around it. If you have a pitcher who throws hard, you can get a 1-0 game. It all depends on the defense if they make no errors. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Since statewide classification in 2004, no one has ever been the BIIF player of the year four years in a row for Division II. No team has won more than two consecutive league titles. Life is always easier when a team has an ace like Tokunaga, who looks forward to a bright future and more hard work.
“The season was great. The team went undefeated (in BIIF games) and all of our bats came around in the really important games, everyone from No. 1 to 9,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be the ace. I came into the team as a freshman and looked up to the seniors. I got to pitch a lot and got a lot of experience. It was great dealing with all those senior batters and Division I teams. It was great when we won against them because we’re Division II.
“We have to work way harder because of our six seniors leaving. The best part was traveling with the team and coming really close to them, and having the feeling that I’ll be with them the next three years.”
1B: Tiana Luga 12 Kohala
2B: Kayla Kalauli 11 Honokaa
3B: Chrysa Dacalio 12 Kealakehe
SS: Kaitlin Agustin 11 Honokaa
P: Mykala Tokunaga 9 Kamehameha
C: Kayla Requelman 10 Honokaa
OF:Sheana Cazimero 12 Kohala
OF: Lehua McGuire 12 Kamehameha
OF: Allie Shiraki 11 Honokaa
Utility: Camille Kiyota 12 Hawaii Prep
1B: Elizabeth Kia 12 Kamehameha
2B: Kiana Alejandro-Cazimero 9 Kohala
3B: Kyrah Sol 9 Kohala
SS: Namele Naipo-Arsiga 12 Kamehameha
P: Precious Palea-Enos 10 Honokaa
C: Syleesia Jose 11 Konawaena
OF: Saxon Nagata 12 Konawaena
OF: Codi Kualii 12 Kamehameha
OF: Napua Kuikahi-Tagaca 12 Konawaena
OF: Ranchell Berinobis 10 Pahoa
Utility: Gayla Ha-Cabebe 11 Kamehameha
Honokaa: Shayla Ignacio (U, 10)
Ka‘u: Shaylin Navarro (U, 12)
Kohala: Ashlyn Van Zandt (P, 10); Denae Rivera (SS, 10); Tomiko Coito (C, 10); Ryah Manning (OF, 10); Briana Harrison (OF, 9)
Konawaena: Hero Wooching (1B, 12); Bethany Batangan (SS, 10); Shyla Victor (P, 10); Kaua Mitchell (OF, 12)
Kamehameha: Jaylen Shiroma (3B, 12)