By: Wes Nakama
Tested to its limit for the third straight night, Campbell survived its final exam Friday by holding off feisty Kamehameha, 4-3, to win its first DataHouse/HHSAA State Championship since 2017.
A vocal and energetic crowd of 1,186 at Rainbow Wahine Stadium watched senior ace Taryn Irimata fight through two home runs by the Warriors and receive support from her teammates on both offense and defense as the Sabers completed a perfect season at 16-0. Kamehameha, the ILH champion and tournament No. 2 seed, finished a sometimes wild campaign strong at 14-6.
The Warriors had won seven of their previous eight games and were tied with Campbell through six and two-third innings, until Cairah Curran slammed a solo home run just over the top of the center field fence to give the Sabers a slim 4-3 lead. Irimata then set down the next three batters in order to clinch the victory and state title.
“It feels good, we wanted it ever since we were freshmen, or even when we were in eighth grade in the stands just watching,” Irimata said. “And knowing that our freshman and sophomore years got taken away (due to COVID) … this just feels amazing.”
Irimata, the state’s premier pitcher throughout the season, surrendered three solo home runs to OIA West rival Kapolei in Wednesday night’s 4-3 quarterfinal win and two more solo blasts in Thursday night’s 3-2 semifinal victory over ILH runner-up ‘Iolani in eight innings.
Kamehameha was quick to strike Friday, as No. 2 batter Navaeh Telles was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the first inning and Mua Williams drilled a home run to left field to give the Warriors a surprising 2-0 lead.
“That’s what we wanted to do, jump on them early and see if we can get them off their game a little bit,” Kamehameha coach Mark Lyman said. “We were watching (Irimata) and saw her get stronger and stronger. That’s why we (wanted) to get out on her early, before she’s locked in, because she becomes a stronger pitcher as the games goes on. She’s not going to walk anybody, she’s going to bear down on you and she’s going to figure it out.”
Campbell responded just as quickly in the top of the second, with Lorraine Alo reaching on an infield error to lead off and scoring on Kayla Whaley’s single to center, followed by Leia Duropan’s towering two-run homer that sailed just inside the left field foul pole to put the Sabers ahead, 3-2.
“I knew she was going to come inside, so I was waiting for that one pitch,” Duropan said. “So I stayed open in my stance and I just took it.”
But the Warriors were not done yet. Loganne Cambra walked to lead off the bottom of the second inning, advanced to second on Mariah Antoque’s single to left, then scored on Telles’ double to the alley in left-center field to tie the score at 3-3.
That’s how it remained over the next four innings, as Irimata and Kamehameha starter Kiani Soller beared down and were backed by several spectacular defensive plays in both the infield and outfield.
Just prior to Curran’s go-ahead home run in the seventh, Warriors left fielder Mikaela Scarborough charged in to make a diving catch of Kiana Kong’s line drive, and then center fielder Marley Espiau snared a blast by Quinn Waiki just below the top of the fence.
“We have athletes, and they’re going to play their hearts out for each other,” Lyman said. “That’s what we told them all year long, ‘Trust each other, play for each other.’ We tell our pitchers, ‘You don’t have to strike everybody out, you have an incredible defense behind you,’ and they showed that tonight. The last couple of games, they showed it.”
Curran then followed with her home run to center, which Espiau chased but could only watch go over at the wall.
“I’m glad it was Cairah,” Campbell coach Shag Hermosura said of Curran, a second baseman who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Santa Clara next season. “She’s one of my leaders.”
That was just the edge Irimata needed, as she finished the game by retiring the final 17 batters she faced in order.
“I’ve been catching for Taryn all season, so I know what she is capable of,” Duropan said. “I knew that she was going to get it back and it would click for her sooner or later. So I didn’t have one doubt in my mind.”
Hermosura said Irimata’s physical and mental toughness were on full display, as was the Sabers’ well-balanced offense and defense.
“She’ll come back and do what she does best, she will take on the challenge,” Hermosura said of Irimata, who will pitch for Nevada next year. “She’ll always be there, she wants the ball, that’s her mentality. I’m just fortunate this year that I had a team 1 through 10 that could swing the bat, play the field and run the bases.”
Irimata said all of that did not come easily, but rather through hard work.
“We push each other so hard at practice, and we work for it so hard, we all want it,” Irimata said. “Even when we’re down, we stay up because we believe in each other, that we can come back.”
Photos: Lori McKeown