Konawaena is not known as a power hitting team, but after an 8-5 win Saturday at Gabby Inaba Field against defending Division I champion Hilo, the Wildcats reputation around the Big Island Interscholastic Federation might be changing.
Evyn Yamaguchi powered a solo home run in second inning over Inaba field’s Tin Monster and Royce Torres-Torioka delivered a two-run blast in the sixth to seal the victory for the Wildcats (2-1).
“I told the boys after the game, now that we have established ourselves as a power hitting team we should expect to see every team’s No. 1 pitcher,” Konawaena head coach Dave Distel said. “Hilo is an outstanding team — the best we have seen so far. We were able to battle their pitchers and go deep into the count. It was a real team effort.”
Shelton Grace pitched five innings, allowing four hits and five runs in the win. Wildcat ace Jordan Miyahira-Young entered the game in the ninth inning to record the save. Zane Grey and Logan Canda also spent time on the mound.
“Shelton bulldogged out there,” Distel said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, his pitches were up a bit, but that is the kind of pitcher he is. He does not have a great fastball, but he has terrific control of his other stuff and got guys out that way.”
Conrad Kauffman took the loss for Hilo (1-1), going 2 2/3 innings, allowing five earned runs and striking out two.
Distel used nearly his whole bench in the win, shuffling players around the diamond and in the batting order.
“We had to use our depth today,” Distel said. “I have a rotation for my players to keep the bench fresh. I use some guys in pinch-hitting spots and others on defense. We have so many athletes on this team it is easy to move guys around. It really makes it fun to be a manager and be able to use strategy and it’s even more fun when it actually works.”
A constant this season for the Wildcats has been Yamaguchi. The senior captain was 3 of 4 at the plate against the Vikings and is currently hitting at a .600 clip this season.
“I do not have enough superlatives to describe what Evyn Yamaguchi does for this team,” Distel said. “When he hit that home run it was really nice.”
Yamaguchi was a little more modest about being the focal point of the Konawaena squad.
“Captain is just a label to me,” Yamaguchi said. “I try my best to be just another guy on this team. All the players make my duties a lot easier for me than it seems.”
A special spectator added extra motivation for Yamaguchi — his grandfather Henry Deniz, an alumnus of Konawaena High School.
“It was a huge inspiration to have him here,” Yamaguchi said. “He is having some problems with his health, so when I was out there it was an inspiration to know he was here watching.”
Konawaena fell behind 3-0 in the first inning after Noah Serrao boomed a three-run homer off of Grace. Despite the early deficit, the Wildcats never got flustered.
Yamaguchi brought in the Wildcats first run in the bottom of the first inning with a blooper to center field, but Konawaena really got its bats going in the second.
After three consecutive hits — including an RBI single by freshman lead-off hitter Vohn Yamaguchi — Canda took a chunk out of Kauffman’s confidence with a thunderous shot to right field. The Vikings nervously watched the ball sail through the air, but it just pushed foul. Canda popped an easy one up on his next pitch, but it was obvious that the Wildcats’ power shook the pitcher.
Torres-Torioka took advantage, slugging a double to the outfield wall, bringing in two runs and giving the Wildcats a 4-3 lead.
“I think one of the real keys today was the foul home run,” Distel said. “That made them think, and then we started one of our famous Wildcat rallies.”
Yamaguchi delivered his solo shot to continue the run, forcing Hilo head coach Tony DeSa to bring in relief pitcher Jalen Carvalho.
Carvalho got the Vikings out of the inning and the Wildcats entered the dugout with a 6-3 lead.
After getting through two defensive innings, the Vikings started chipping away at the Wildcats lead in the fifth. Micah Kaaukai got on base with a single and Carvalho helped himself out with a two-run homer to bring Hilo within one run.
Unfortunatly for the Vikings, Torres-Torioka still had some power left in his bat. The senior ripped his first-home run of the season and gave the Wildcats a 8-5 cushion entering the final stanza.
“What Mr. Torres-Torioka did today was incredible,” Distel said. “Every at bat he hit the ball hard and battled at the plate.”
The win was far from wrapped up for the Wildcats. Distel inserted Canda — his sophomore closer — into the lineup for the final inning.
Canda walked the first batter he saw, and got the next batter to fly out. However, next up was Carvalho, who was hungry for a second home run. Carvalho drilled two balls well over the outfield wall, but just foul, resulting in Canada gripping the ball a little too hard on the next pitch. Canda beamed Carvalho, sending him to first and bringing the tying run to the plate.
With two outs and the game on the line, Distel decided it was time to unleash Miyahira-Young.
“I wanted to see how (Canda) would do in a crucial situation,” Distel said. “That would have been his last batter anyway because I wanted to get Jordan in for one or two batters. Logan won a couple of games in the preseason, and I’m setting him up not only to be our short stop of the future, but also one of our stoppers.”
Miyahira-Young made a brilliant diving play just before taking the mound, and then wrapped up the contest with an easy play at first base in conjunction with his brother, Kea Miyahira-Young.
Hilo 300 020 0 — 5 7 2
Kona 150 020 x — 8 10 2