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Friday, October 24, 2014         

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Sakamoto, Okino set up

By Ann Miller

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First the clouds made the mountains disappear in Thursday's semifinals of the Hawaii State Women's Match Play Championship.

Then the city below Oahu Country Club disappeared as rain blew in sideways and the clouds descended.

Then Cyd Okino's golf ball began to disappear on the greens. Finally, Nicole Sakamoto made her college roommate disappear.

This morning, Okino will attempt to win her third match-play title against Sakamoto, who captured her first a year ago and came back days later to win the State Stroke Play Championship. Okino, a Punahou graduate headed to the University of Washington, won her first match-play title at age 11 (2005), then got her second by defeating Sakamoto in the 2008 final.

Okino got to the final of Hawaii's second women's major of the year by defeating four-time Jennie K. champion Kristina Merkle, 3 and 2. Sakamoto, a Kalani graduate, outlasted James Madison teammate Valentina Sanmiguel, 1-up. The two roommates will be seniors this fall. Sanmiguel is from Bogota, Columbia.

The only common element in the matches was awful weather. Umbrella-busting wind gusted all day and the afternoon semifinals were a wet mess, with rain blowing in -- mostly -- and out for 4 hours-plus.

Surprisingly, the weather had little effect on the scores. Merkle, a junior at Tulsa, played the front nine in 4-under-par 33 and was still only 2-up on Okino, who had three birdies on the front, including a tee shot that hit the flag at No. 7.

Okino's fifth one-putt green cut her deficit to one on the 10th. After pars, Okino went birdie-birdie-eagle -- holing her approach shot from 108 yards out on the 14th -- to grab her own 2-up advantage.

"That was unbelievable," Okino said. "I was like, 'What was that?' First my putting was saving me and then that happened and I was like, 'Whoa, what is going on?'

"From there I just kept calm and I could tell Kristina was getting a little hyper, but she played really well. Her putts were coming close all the time. If they had dropped we would have still been playing."

Merkle, who had never played this tournament or OCC before this week, probably hit the ball better than Okino, but could not sink a putt or match Okino's short-game magic. The two-time state high school champion blasted her drive over the hazard and up the hill to within 40 yards of the par-4, 232-yard eighth. She birdied to win the hole, but she would win no more.

Merkle's only bogey came on the 15th when her wedge slipped in her hands. By then, Okino was 7 under for the day.

Meanwhile, the James Madison seniors were also missing putts and slogging it out ahead. Sanmiguel held a 3-up advantage after No. 10, but Sakamoto caught her with pars on three of the next four holes. A double bogey cost her the 15th, but Sakamoto evened it up again when she nearly holed her tee shot at the par-3 16th. A kick-in birdie at the 17th gave her her first lead since No. 1. Sanmiguel could not catch her on the 18th.

The two have been playing matches as practice all summer, but that was "just for cookies." This one meant more. Sakamoto, who goes into her final year with the lowest career scoring average in JMU history, got past her nervousness when she was 3-down to persevere.

In morning quarterfinals, Sakamoto defeated Lisa Kang, 7 and 5; Sanmiguel beat Margaret Min, 3 and 1; Okino ousted Michele Condry, 2 and 1; and Merkle defeated Kelli Oride, 4 and 2.

White gets first win

Honolulu's Alexandra White won her first American Junior Golf Association Open tournament Thursday, capturing the Aaron's/Bob Estes Abilene Junior in Texas. White closed with a 4-under-par 66, making five birdies on the front nine at Abilene Country Club. She beat a girls field of 28 from five states and Mexico.

Her three-day total of 208 was four shots better than runner-up Grace Choi of Dallas. Kirsten Pike, also from Texas, was third at 214. The top three are all scheduled to graduate in 2013.

Koga out of Junior Amateur

All the Hawaii players are gone from the U.S. Junior Amateur Championships after girls state high school champion Eimi Koga and Lahaina's Aaron Kunitomo lost Thursday in the second round. Eight golfers from Hawaii qualified for the USGA events.

Koga, a junior at Moanalua, was seeded third after stroke-play qualifying in the 63rd U.S. Junior Girls at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois. She was 3-up at the turn against Aurora Kan, but couldn't hold on, falling 2 and 1. Kan won three straight holes to tie it on the 12th. She birdied the 16th to go 1-up, then clinched the match with par on the 17th when Koga took quadruple bogey.

Kunitomo, a Kamehameha-Maui senior, never led against Zachary Herr, from Pennsylvania. Herr played the first 12 holes in 5 under to take a 4-up lead. Kunitomo birdied the next two holes but lost, 3 and 2.

Kunitomo won this year's Maui Interscholastic League title and has verbally committed to UCLA for 2012.






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