Waiakea no longer features the battled-tested, seasoned rosters that dominated Big Island Interscholastic Federation softball from 2007-11.
But these youthful, upstart Warriors are back in the Division I championship game all the same.
“We have a little drama every now and then, but we have fun,” Skylar Thomas said.
The freshman just as well could have been talking about Saturday’s semifinals against Kealakehe. The Warriors scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to eke out a 5-4 win in the opener, then they coasted to a sweep, winning 9-0.
“It made us more fired up and ready to go,” Taylor Nishimura said of Game 1. “The enthusiasm just carried over.”
Waiakea (9-3) will face Hilo (12-0) in the best-of-three championship series. Game 1 is at 3 p.m. Friday at UHH softball stadium. The Vikings swept Keaau — 11-0 and 18-7 — in the other semifinal series.
“We’ll be there,” Waiakea coach Bo Saiki said of a roster that is littered with underclassmen.
Most of then contributed Saturday, including freshman pitcher Alyssa Hara. Hara battled through a complete game in the opener, then she seemingly got stronger during her 160-pitch day as she tossed six shutout innings.
“I got a lot better,” she said as she iced down her elbow, ankle and shoulder. “I got into a rhythm and found my release point.”
The Waveriders’ season is finished at 6-6.
In the opener, Kealakehe’s Kelina Palmer-Kahananui (2 for 4) stroked a single in the top of the seventh and came all the way around to score on a three-base error to tie the score 4-4.
Nishimura tripled in the bottom of the seventh, and Kealakehe tried to walk Thomas, who had other ideas and reached for the pitch, hitting a liner to second that was dropped to bring in Nishimura with the winning run.
“I didn’t want to walk; I wanted to hit,” Thomas said. “I wanted to play and win so we can go advance and continue.”
Thomas kept on hitting in the second game, finishing 4 for 4, including an RBI single in the second and two-run single in the third. In the fifth, Thomas tripled and scored.
Two other freshmen, Kristi Hirata and Tierra Teves, contributed to a three-run rally in the first inning.
“We’ve really bonded and gotten closer as team,” Nishimura said. “We’re more family instead of just a team.”
Sophomores Nishimura and Taylor Ogawa had two hits each for Waiakea in Game 1, while junior Shanell Leopoldino collected two hits in each game.
Leopoldino doubled twice with two RBIs against Game 1 loser Tavian Taketa.
Taketa had two hits for the Waveriders in the finale. Palmer-Kahananui got just two outs in taking the loss, and Kiara Cantiberos finished up with 6 1/3 innings.
Kealakehe 000 120 1 — 4 7 0
Waiakea 400 000 1— 5 7 3
Waiakea 313 110 0 — 9 11 1
Kealakehe 000 000 x—0 6 4
Aliesa Kaneshiro racked up two complete games and added three hits in each at Walter Victor Stadium, giving the Vikings a chance to threepeat.
Hilo won the first game 11-0 as Kaneshiro drove in four runs to go along with eight strikeouts and four walks in a one-hitter in the circle. Caitlin Price was 2 for 4.
Lohi Kamakea-Wong also went the distance for the Cougars (6-6), striking out three and walking four.
The Vikings connected for 19 hits as they poured it on in Game 2.
Shyanne Higa-Gonsalves tripled with four hits and four RBIs, and Sharlei Graham-Bernisto (3 for 4) and Reisha Hoopii-Haslam (2 for 6) also drove in four runners. Jordyn Breitbarth was 3 for 4 with three RBIs in back of Kaneshiro, who walked eight and struck out seven.
Lohi Kamakea-Wong took another loss, giving up six walks with three strikeouts.
Shaniya Kamakea-Wong finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs, and Lohi Kamekea-Wong and Rylann Hacona collected two hits apiece.
Keaau 000 000 — 0 1 4
Hilo 310 052— 11 11 5
Hilo 112 235 3 18 19 4
Keaau 300 102 1 — 7 9 10