KEALAKEKUA — It was a long day for both Konawaena and Honokaa on Saturday in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s new playoff format: a best-of-three series that doubled as a Charles Darwin survival of the fittest experiment.
The Wildcats outlasted and swept the Dragons 20-10 at 16-10 in the semifinal series at Kona’s softball field, advancing to the BIIF championship and earning a spot to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament.
In the other BIIF Division II semifinal series, two-time defending champion Kamehameha swept Kohala 19-2, 12-1.
Kona (8-3-1) plays Kamehameha (10-2) at 1 p.m. Friday at UH-Hilo in Game 1 of the BIIF championship series. Game 2 is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at UHH, and a third game, if necessary, will follow at 1 p.m.
Honokaa (4-7-1) hosts Kohala (4-8) at 3 p.m. Wednesday in a single game for the league’s third berth to the Division II state tourney.
The Dragons had a much longer day than the Wildcats, who were in a rush to get to their school prom, which was scheduled to start at 5 p.m., right when the doubleheader finished. The first game was slated for 11 a.m. but Honokaa’s players were out the door at 7 a.m.
Kona coach Shellie Grace viewed the doubleheader as a suitable preparation for states, which requires three consecutive days for a seeded team and four days for an unseeded one to win the championship.
“It was a long day, and we were prepared for a long, long day,” she said. “It’s a good preparation for states. The only thing is we don’t play a doubleheader during the season.
“In the second game, I saw our energy level go down. We moved players around (to different positions) to change the vibe. It helped.”
Honokaa coach Wesley Fujimoto didn’t see a sunny side up to the new format. At least, his team gets to host on Wednesday.
“I saw our energy drop in the second inning of the second game,” he said. “Some of our girls were sick. They were all hanging.
“The difference has always been pitching. If your pitcher can throw strikes, you’ll be good. If not, the game will be longer for the pitchers.”
Unless there’s a fireballer like Hilo senior Aliesha Kaneshiro and Kamehameha sophomore Mykala Tokunaga, who pile up strikeouts, the games might last what seems like an eternity if pitchers don’t throw strikes.
That energy drain was apparent at the start of Game 2, which the Wildcats won 16-10. They scored five runs on walks and two more on hit by pitches. Honokaa scored three runs on walks and two on hit by pitches.
There was a combined 12 walks and five hit by pitches. The game took 2 1/2 hours. And the first inning lasted almost an hour.
In the laborious first inning, Honokaa starter Kayla Requelman and Kona starter Anu Binney each recorded only one out before getting pulled.
Then the game took a decisive U-turn when Grace went to the circle, and brought in freshman Teizha Kaluna, who caused a Honokaa scoring drought with four scoreless innings, before she surrendered three runs in the sixth.
Providing an all-around performance, Kaluna, who also batted 2 for 4 and scored two runs, pitched 6 2/3 innings for the win. She allowed three runs on thee hits and two walks, and struck out three.
“It was a long day. I thought we did good on offense and defense,” Kaluna said. “I was keeping myself up and following each inning by hitting corners and my spots. Our practices have paid off. We stayed strong and picked ourselves up.”
Sarah Sedillo got stuck with the loss in 4 2/3 innings She gave up seven runs (two unearned) on seven hits and no walks, and whiffed one. It didn’t help that her defense committed seven errors, forcing her to extinguish extra outs and putting her under a bright Kona sun longer than necessary.
Keesha Matsuoka pitched the final two innings for Honokaa, and surrendered three runs on three hits and three walks.
Lihue Wessel batted 3 for 5 with three RBIs, stroking a two-run single in the first, to lead the Wildcats. Jayssa Grace went 3 for 4.
Zarina Hasegawa batted 2 for 4 and scored two runs to lead the Dragons. No one else paired hits.
Kona 20, Honokaa 10: In Game 1, Kaila Kaupe DeLeon clubbed a grand slam to highlight a home-run derby for the Wildcats, who smashed five homers.
Syleesia Jose hit two home runs and batted 5 for 5 with a double and four RBIs.
Down 10-8, DeLeon’s grand slam gave the Wildcats a 12-8 lead and an offensive spark.
“I’ve hit homers before, but never a grand slam,” she said. “That felt good. I thought the key was happiness. We were bringing each other up.”
Grace (2 for 5) and Teizha Kaluna (2 for 3) also went deep, and Binney pitched three innings and kept the Dragons to one run.
Honokaa’s Allie Shiraki doubled twice and Hasegawa also had two hits. Sedillo and Kayla Kalauli each doubled and drove in two runs.
Kalauli started and pitched three innings, and Kaitlin Agustin finished up, allowing 13 runs (nine earned).
Honokaa 220 510 — 10 9 5
Konawaena 403 184— 20 15 1
Konawaena 600 307 0 —16 12 3
Honokaa 700 003 0 — 10 6 7
Mykala Tokunaga picked up a pair of wins and multihit games in TKO victories, 19-2 and 12-1, in Keaau as the Warriors cruised to the BIIF finals.
Kiarra Lincoln smacked a three-run home run in the first game for Kamehameha (10-2), finishing with three hits and five RBIs. Makena Wagner collected three hits and drove in three runs, and Tokunaga, Kekai Wong Yuen and Jaysha Alonzo-Estrada each had two hits and an RBI.
Tomiko Coito drove in two runs for the Cowgirls (4-8), and Kiana Alejandro-Cazimero was the losing pitcher.
After going four innings with four strikeouts a walk and two hits allowed in the early game, the sophomore returned to the circle and struck out five in five innings in another two-hitter.
At the plate, Tokunaga bashed four hits and drove in four runs, and Wagner added two hits and two RBIs.
Coito was the losing pitcher for Kohala, while Ashlyn Van Zandt had an RBI.