WAIMEA — Hawaii Preparatory Academy (7-0) rode the arm of junior pitcher Koa Ellis to down visiting Kealakehe 3-2 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation baseball matchup Wednesday in Waimea.
With the win, HPA remains the BIIF’s lone undefeated squad, and has a solid grip on the No. 1 seed in Division II as the final week of the season draws near.
“I thought Koa pitched a great game. That was the story for us today,” HPA head coach Jordan Hayslip said. “I always expect Koa to battle out there. He is a great competitor”
Ellis scattered his 11 strikeouts during the complete game victory, retiring a batter via punchout in every inning but one, and striking out at least two in four innings.
“My curves were working for me this game,” Ellis said. “I just pitched strikes and the defense did the rest.”
Ka Makani senior Mike Nakahara batted 3 for 3 from the plate, and DJ Sekiya added a run and an RBI.
Pohaku Dela Cruz took the loss for the Waveriders (3-5), allowing seven hits and three earned runs in six innings of work.
“Pokahu pitched his butt off, but the defense did not help him out,” Kealakehe head coach Josh Hansen said. “But despite the defense making some mistakes, all-in-all, I think it was a good game for us. We are competing and battling with the tough teams, but at this point we are just not coming up with the big hits when we need them.”
Kealakehe lead off hitter Shaden Lewi found rare success against Ellis, batting 4 of 4 with an RBI.
The game took a controversial turn in the final inning as Sage Valenzuela came up to bat with the tying run in scoring position and two outs.
Valenzuela smacked a ball hard to the left side of the infield and appeared to beat the throw at first, loading the bases. However, the umpire called Valenzuela out, much to the dismay of both Kealakehe base coaches, who immediately ran to argue the game-ending decision.
“Tough call, that’s all I can say,” Hansen said. “From my angle he was a step, or at least half a step, through the bag. We can’t leave the game in the hands of the umpires though. We didn’t hit when we had to.”
HPA built a lead in the first inning, when Cyrus Inglis knocked an RBI single to the outfield wall, bringing in Sekiya. Ian Rice also scored in the inning, delivering a deep double to right field, and using savvy base running to get home.
Nakahara added a single with two outs, but got caught wandering off the first base bag, ending the early rally.
Sloppy base running cost Ka Makani multiple in the matchup, and Hayslip said it is going to be one of the primary focuses of the team’s bye week.
Ellis kept Kealakehe off the board until the fifth inning. Duke Tamaye led off with a double, and Ellis’ lone walk of Cheremie Arnold coupled with a well-placed bunt by Dustin Waiau loaded the bases with no outs.
Lewi hit a ball to the left field, brining in Tamaye and narrowing the deficit to one run. Dela Cruz then got on base after an error on the throw to first, loading up the bases once again.
Zaynan Sanchez, the senior captain for the Waveriders, walked into the batters box next. Sanchez took a big cut on the first ball he saw, but just missed. He made contact on his next swing, but hit into a double play, ending the ‘Riders run.
“Early in the game we started trying to work the counts, but with strike after strike being thrown, the boys just had to go up there and be ready to hit early in the count,” Hansen said. “I have to give props to their pitcher. He threw a lot of strikes.”
Ka Makani added the eventual winning run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly from Sekiya, which allowed Braden Kojima to score.
HPA has a much-need bye this weekend before entering the gauntlet stretch of its schedule. Next week, Ka Makani play three games in a week span, something no other team has done this season. HPA also has to do it against teams who are a collective 15-4-2, including Division II rivals Konawaena (5-2) and Kamehameha (5-1-1).
“We scored early and had a comfortable lead, but they are a scrappy team. They battled us hard until the end,” Hayslip said. “It’s a good confidence booster, but we play one game at a time.”
Ellis echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“This win feels good, but we still have to work hard everyday,” Ellis said. “We don’t want to look towards the playoffs yet and are taking it one game at a time.”
Kealakehe 000 010 1 — 2 10 4
HPA 200 010 x — 3 6 3