POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 8, 2011
For Mid-Pacific, one of the perks of winning a state championship was getting fed instead of getting dirty.
Usually after the final game of the season, the Owls gather to tidy up the campus softball field. Yesterday, with the thrill of Friday's 10-4 win over Castle in the state tournament final still lingering, they got together for a potluck at the cafeteria to celebrate the program's first title.
"It still feels surreal," said pitcher Keiki Carlos, the state tournament MVP. "I guess now seeing everyone and talking about the game, it's like, 'We did it.' "
The reflections on how far the program had come to culminate this season atop the state ranged from the start of the season for some to their intermediate days for the seniors. For head coach Willie Quinn, there were about 10 years of memories since he started coaching at MPI and eight since taking over the varsity.
"We used to be the, 'stats team,' " Quinn said. "People used to pad stats against us."
That outlook began to shift when this year's senior class joined the program as freshmen. Then followed the group that included Carlos and three other current starters. They won the ILH and qualified for the state tournament the past two years, but didn't make it past the quarterfinal round.
Quinn had worked with assistant Michele Miyamoto since the start and added experienced coaches in Alan Inaba, Garret Watanabe and Kent Tashiro to the program this season, with Stephen Carlos handling the pitchers and catchers.
The Owls retained the ILH title and this time breezed through the state quarters and semifinals and appeared on their way to a decisive championship victory, taking a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. But Castle — which came back from four runs down against Punahou and erased a five-run deficit against Campbell — put together yet another rally and tied the game on Brittany Hawn's two-run single.
"We found out," Quinn said, "four runs is not a safe lead. Give credit to them, the whole tournament they kept coming back."
A critical double play, started when Tasi Docktor snagged Roblyn Silva's line drive, kept the Owls from having to face Castle slugger Leisha Liilii with the winning run on base.
The play kept the Owls alive and going into the eighth, "We said we didn't work this hard to have it end here," said senior catcher Kaydi Kochi.
In a true one-through-nine effort, the Owls scored six runs in the eighth to finally put the game out of reach. Every member of the lineup contributed to the rally at some point, starting with No. 9 hitter Tasha Luis-Hirata's lone hit of the tournament.
Junior second baseman Kacy Aoki, who missed the entire preseason, ended the year by going 3-for-4, driving in three runs and leaving Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium with the championship trophy.
"Everybody left, so I just took it home," she said. "I held it for a good half an hour after the game."
How long the Owls can hold onto the title will be among the questions heading into next season with the return of a strong junior class, including Carlos (who has already verbally committed to Hawaii), Aoki, Docktor and left fielder Jordan Joy.
"We just have to come back next year stronger than we were this year and start all over," said Carlos.
That process includes tomorrow, when they show up to clean up the field.