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Campbell Shuts Down Wai’anae, 7-0, to Win OIA Softball Title | Photo Gallery

Campbell Shuts Down Wai'anae, 7-0, to Win OIA Softball Title | Photo Gallery

By: Wes Nakama

Taryn Irimata tossed a one-hitter with six strikeouts and one walk and got all the offensive support she needed with a six-run second inning Saturday night as Campbell shut down Wai’anae, 7-0, to win its third OIA softball championship in four seasons.

A capacity crowd of about 250 at McKinley’s Tiger Softball Stadium and statewide TV audience on Spectrum Sports OC16 watched the Sabers complete a perfect 13-0 run in league play and earn the OIA’s top seed and first-round bye in the DataHouse HHSAA State Championships May 2 through May 5 at the University of Hawai’i’s Rainbow Wahine Stadium.

Wai’anae, which finished league play at 10-3 with all three losses coming to Campbell, will start state tournament play in the opening round on May 2.

“I definitely think we (the OIA) are going to make a run for it in states,” said Irimata, a senior right-hander who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Nevada next season. “(Wai’anae and third-place Mililani) are two really good strong teams, they’re two of the teams we enjoy playing because they’re good competition.”

Having lost to the Sabers 7-0 and 4-2 in two previous meetings, the Seariders offered a surprising different look to Campbell on Saturday by starting sophomore Kehau Tambaoan-Kaeo at pitcher instead of senior ace Jerzie Liana, who took both previous losses. 

Tambaoan-Kaeo pitched two hitless and scoreless innings in Thursday’s quarterfinal victory over Pearl City, with four strikeouts and no walks.

“It was tough, because if we do it and something bad happens … but if we don’t, then we think we ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ …,” Wai’anae coach Tiani Hensley said if the decision. “The first inning went well, and then in the second inning we got into the big hole.”

Kiana Kong drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs to start the scoring in that second inning, then Quinn Waiki followed with a two-run single to left to make it 3-0. Cairah Curran then followed with a two-run single to right-center, and China Pantastico capped it off with an RBI double down the left field line to make it 6-0.

“Jerzie’s ball goes down, but Kehau’s ball goes up and down, left and right,” Campbell coach Shag Hermosura said. “Most importantly, I told (the Sabers), ‘Don’t chase the high pitch, and don’t miss the bottom.’ Once you leave the high pitch alone, we’ll be OK.”

Irimata said the 6-0 cushion did help her and her team’s confidence, although she still had plenty of respect for the Seariders’ lineup.

“I think that really brought our energy up, and it stayed up,” Irimata said. “I know they have big bats, and one swing and they can come back. But the bigger lead definitely helped me.”

Irimata was never really threatened on the bases. After retiring the first four batters of the game, she allowed a sharp ground single to center field by Oriana Mailo, then responded by setting down the next 16 batters in order. Moani Ioane drew a full count and two-out walk in the seventh, but Irimata calmly then got a strikeout to end the game.

Besides the six strikeouts, Irimata induced 11 pop-ups to either the infield or short outfield.

“She’s a really good pitcher, she’s gonna come after you, and you don’t know what she’s coming with,” Hensley said. “That’s what we faced today. We were suckers for the rise. And when she comes in tight, she’s gonna come in tight. And we just couldn’t adjust. She comes in hard, and all the time we faced her, even when we knew what she was coming with, but we were still off-balanced.”

Hermosura, who has been coaching softball for 15 years, said what sets Irimata apart is her fiery inner competitiveness.

“She’s just a beast, she just wants the ball all the time,” Hermosura said. “She’s always like, ‘(try) hit my best pitch.’ “

Waiki, the leadoff batter and shortstop, finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs, Curran went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, and Pantastico had the two-run double.

Despite the loss, Hensley said her team brought a lot of pride back to the Wai’anae community by staying near the top of the OIA list of contenders all season.

“I’m very happy, because we went from fifth or sixth place — roaming around there for a couple years, and then this year we got a chance to show people who we are,” Hensley said. “But now we gotta re-group. We’re shifting our mindsets, getting ready for states. I hope this (loss) lights the fire.”

For Campbell, it’s another 2023 OIA championship to add to the Sabers boys basketball team’s first-ever league DI title and the girls basketball team’s league crown, both earned in February.

“I think it really means a lot, all the sports (teams) support each other,” Irimata said. “I think having that support, and the support from our community is also really big. It just feels amazing that we don’t only have a team, but we (also) have a community.”

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