By: Wes Nakama
In a tight ILH baseball race, Saint Louis forged ahead of the pack Thursday afternoon by the tightest of margins, edging Maryknoll 4-3 with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning at Ala Wai Field.
Tanner Chun’s line single to center field brought home Ryder Okimoto from third base for the winning run, lifting the Crusaders to 4-1 in league play and into sole possession of first place. The Spartans fell to 3-2 and into a three-way tie with ‘Iolani and Kamehameha for second place.
“It’s important,” Chun said about taking the early lead in the traditionally tough ILH regular season. “When we play together as a team now, and we show what we are capable of … we feel good about it.”
Thursday’s victory certainly was hard fought.
Maryknoll took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Noah Bernal was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a grounder to short, then scored on a two-out infield error. Saint Louis responded with three runs in the third, after an RBI single by Chance Kuhlmann, a run-scoring triple by Chyler DeSilva and an RBI single by Kehanu Martinez.
The Spartans closed it to 3-2 in the fifth after Tanner Fujino led off with a walk, advanced to second on Kaui Kekauoha’s bloop single to right, to third on an errant pickoff throw, and scored on Allin Yap’s sacrifice fly to center.
Maryknoll then tied it in the sixth after Kory Chu reached on a leadoff walk, took second on a groundout to short, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Noah Nakaoka’s single to left.
Both teams put a runner on third in the seventh, but neither cashed in.
In the top of the eighth, Luke Swartman reached on a one-out single, but a courtesy runner was picked off in a rundown and reliever Kolby Gushiken got a strikeout to end the inning.
Okimoto, who had been 0 for 3 with a walk, then led off the bottom of the eighth with a double down the left field line.
“Ryder had been struggling offensively, but he’s been outstanding for us in the field,” Saint Louis coach George Gusman said. “Against ‘Iolani, he came in (from the outfield) and played shortstop, and he made two tough plays, and that’s just what he is. He’s a gamer, and I’m so happy for him to get that double. He brings a lot of things to our team.”
Gushiken laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Okimoto to third, and then Chun followed with his line single to center by getting the barrel on a 1-2 slider.
“My mindset when I had the runner on third was just to drive it into the outfield, even with two strikes because I knew Sean (Yamaguchi) behind me (batting next) would have a good chance as well,” said Chun, the starting center fielder who bats third in the lineup. “So I trust myself, and my teammates to pick me up if I struggle. We just thought if we stuck together as a team and play together throughout the whole thing, we would come out on top.”
Gusman said he expected the Spartans to put up a strong challenge.
“I think people in the league know how good they are, and the good players they have, so that’s not a surprise,” Gusman said. “They’ve been building this team for awhile, so knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Maryknoll coach Alaka’i Aglipay said his team showed grit in tying the game in the late innings after being down 3-1.
“I think that’s just something that we preach,” Aglipay said. “This is baseball, you’re going to find yourself in situations where you’re down, but I think just keeping that message of not giving up, play for each other, and just continue to fight back until the last out … I’m proud of them, they came back, they could have easily hung their heads. Saint Louis is a good team, and it can be very easy to just feel sorry for yourself and not compete in that situation. So I’m happy with what I saw, and we just gotta continue to get better.”
Martinez was 2 for 2, Gushiken went 2 for 4, Chun finished 2 for 5, and DeSilva was 1 for 3 with the RBI triple for the Crusaders. Kekauoha went 2 for 2 with a double to lead the Spartans’ offense.
Photos: Jonathan Salvador
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