By: Wes Nakama
Staying in front of the ultra-competitive ILH baseball race is always a precarious position, but Saint Louis managed to hang on to that lead through the first 10 games.
That run finally ended Thursday afternoon, when Punahou held off the Crusaders, 3-2, in tense action at Ala Wai Field. Kamehameha (8-3) is the new leader atop the standings, while Saint Louis fell into a second place tie with ‘Iolani (both 7-3-1). Mid-Pacific (7-4) is in fourth place, followed by Punahou (6-5), Maryknoll (4-7) and Pac-Five (3-8).
“(The Crusaders) were at the top for a reason,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said. “They’re well-coached, they prepare well, they’re strong, they execute … I think the rest of the league is also doing excellent. I think all the teams have to play a good, solid, fundamental game in order to win, no matter who you’re playing.”
Thursday’s showdown was yet another intense, close game with several big plays and little margin for error.
Saint Louis took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning after Sean Yamaguchi led off with a single to left, advanced to second on a walk, stole third and scored on Chance Kuhlmann’s infield single.
The Buff ‘N Blue responded with three runs in the top of the third, on a balk, a run-scoring single by Nolan Souza and Jake Hiromoto’s squeeze bunt.
“We always preach to the kids that everything is an opportunity,” Sue said. “One thing we haven’t been doing well this year is hitting. And so you could look at it one way and say our hitting is terrible. The other thing you could do is say let’s try to shore up the other things that could help us be productive on offense, which is stealing bases, bunting, hit-and-run and putting pressure on the defense. We kind of had to pivot, and — to use a quote from Bruce Lee — ‘be water.’ If one thing is stopped, we gotta flow another way to figure it out.”
The Crusaders closed it to 3-2 after Ryder Okimoto reached on a two-out single to left, advanced to third on Kolby Gushiken’s single to right and scored on a wild pitch, sliding into home plate as the ball popped out loose on the tag.
But reliever Aaron Taka got a flyout to center to end the rally, then retired Saint Louis in order the final two innings to save the victory. Taka and starter Trent Nagamine combined on a three-hitter.
“We didn’t do anything (offensively) in the middle innings, just too many fly balls,” Crusaders coach George Gusman said. “We’ve been trying to get better at that. We can’t just fly out.”
For standings purposes, the ILH awards two points for a victory and one for a tie, meaning Saint Louis (15 points) is still only one point behind Kamehameha (16).
“That’s a credit to our guys, staying together and believing in themselves, just playing hard and doing the little things right,” Gusman said. “Right now we’re not getting any breaks, it’s one of those things. But it’s not going to change who we are.”
Raiden Shibayama went 3 for 3 with one run scored for Punahou, and Hiromoto had a double.
Gusman, who was ejected from the game in the bottom of the third inning after confronting Sue, said he plans to send a letter to the ILH expressing his concerns about alleged inappropriate language from the Buff ‘N Blue dugout.