By: Wes Nakama
Down to its final out, Mililani rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday night to stun Saint Louis, 2-1, in the opening round of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Baseball State Championships.
A tense and vocal crowd of about 800 at Les Murakami Stadium watched the Trojans improve to 11-6 and advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals against Waiakea at 1 p.m. The ILH runner-up Crusaders fell to 13-6-1 and into Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. consolation bracket game against ‘Iolani at Pearl City.
Saint Louis took a 1-0 lead Tuesday and that held until the seventh, when No. 9 batter Ethan Bagasol reached on a one-out single, advanced to second when right fielder Ryder Okimoto rifled a throw home to peg a sliding Hirayama, and then tied the game by scoring on Malosi Mata’afa-Alferos’ single to right. Mata’afa-Alferos then scored on Ethan Murakoshi’s single to left to push Mililani ahead, 2-1.
After allowing a leadoff single to No. 9 batter Ezekiel Ribuca in the bottom of the seventh, Hirayama then retired the next three batters in order to finish his complete game on the mound.
“We for sure had a chance, I just had to make sure I threw strikes and let my defense do the rest, and I knew our offense would come around eventually,” said Hirayama, a sophomore left-hander. “We just needed to step on the gas, and not let go, and I knew we would come around. Coach Mark (Hirayama) always tells us, ‘Never let the gas go, just put the pressure on them all game, and it’ll come.’ “
It took almost an entire game’s worth of pressure and patience, as Saint Louis starter Jacob Villacorte was mostly in command from the very beginning. In pitching six and two-thirds innings of shutout ball, Villacorte allowed only four hits, struck out seven and walked only two.
“It’s just unfortunate, we had a number of opportunities tonight, we just couldn’t bring it home,” Crusaders coach George Gusman said. “We had our best pitcher on the mound, and there were two outs, and we just couldn’t make one more (good) pitch. Give credit to them. It’s unfortunate somebody had to lose, and it’s unfortunate (that) it’s us.”
Saint Louis took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after Chyler DeSilva reached on a one-out single to right, moved to second on a groundout and scored on Matt Pavao’s single to left.
The Crusaders also put a runner at third with two outs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, only to see Hirayama escape each jam with two flyouts and a strikeout, respectively. Hirayama scattered seven hits and struck out five, while walking only one.
“Especially with Saint Louis, I mean, they’ve got some big bats,” Mark Hirayama said. “We kept stressing, ‘Get ahead, keep them off balanced, and we’ll be alright.’ He did a great job tonight.”
Mililani went 7-5 in the OIA regular season and was the Western Division’s No. 3 seed in the league tournament, eventually finishing third. But the Trojans are now one victory away from reaching the state semifinals.
“I told the team at the beginning of the year, we start building this house from Day 1,” Mark Hirayama said. “Every day out, we’re gonna put another brick on the house and hopefully at the end of the season, we can put that last brick on and reach our goal. It’s all about competing and growing every day and trying to get better every day. That’s all I can ask of these guys.”
Photos: Grant Shishido