POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 29, 2011
One was a big-time slugger before her teens, swinging for fences.
The other was never physically imposing, but the heat coming off her hand never cooled off.
It's only fitting that Leisha Liilii and Keiki Carlos, the stars of the state championship game, earned top honors from coaches and media in the Star-Advertiser softball all-state team.
Liilii, a 6-foot-1 first baseman for Castle, ran away in position player of the year voting. Carlos, a hula student whose pitching powered Mid-Pacific to the state crown, was voted pitcher of the year.
Mid-Pacific's William Quinn was voted coach of the year.
Liilii was the premier power hitter in the state, displaying her best at the state tourney. She clubbed three home runs during the tourney while still hitting for average, and her defense at first was impeccable all season.
Liilii hit .615 in league play with six homers, 25 RBIs and 24 runs scored. Her slugging percentage (1.077) and on-base percentage (.667) were also off the charts. Then came the state tourney: 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs against Punahou; 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs against Lahainaluna; 4-for-5 with two homers, six RBIs against Campbell.
Only Mid-Pacific, with Carlos on the mound, limited her to one base hit while pitching around her.
"I heard about her," Quinn said. "I got to know her better at our senior (exhibition) game. She was on our team and hit a three-run homer to win the game. She's a really nice person. She's going to be something next year at the University of Hawaii.
For good measure, Liilii hit six of 10 pitches out of the park during a practice for the exhibition game. One homer, a line drive to right, left a round dent on the Owls' scoreboard, leaving her teammates and new friends in awe.
"It takes work, taking a lot of cuts. Being so tall, a lot of pitchers try to keep it away down low," Castle coach Jon Berinobis said. "Two of her home runs at states were (on pitches) down and away. She's developed that opposite-field power."
Liilii concedes that as a young player, long before high school, it was all or nothing.
"I was always swinging for the fence," she said. "It rarely worked."
Since then, she's tweaked her stance, swinging out of an upright posture rather than squatting down halfway.
"Her size and the way she swings the bat, she hits it better than some men I play with," Berinobis added. "Her swing generates so much speed and power, but she's just trying to make contact."
In addition, she stepped up when starting pitcher Macee Moe suffered a knee injury during basketball season. That put the burden on Liilii, who had just one year of pitching experience.
"Mentally, it's about staying up," Liilii said. "I get upset when someone gets a hit off me. Sometimes, I get down on myself if I walk a batter. This season taught me to be mentally strong, to keep pushing no matter what, knowing that my teammates will back me up."
She added: "We bonded as a team better than my first two years. You have to have good chemistry on the field, to feel comfortable around your team, knowing you can trust them and depend on each other. It made us reach our full potential."
Liilii was one of the leaders who helped spark the Knights after a loss in the Oahu Interscholastic Association semifinals to Campbell.
"It was hard, but we still had a chance to take states, so we trained harder," Liilii said. "We talked about supporting each other, not getting down on ourselves, not giving up. We knew states would be four days in a row, so we did more conditioning. Coach wanted the seniors to step up."
Carlos capped a gritty, dominating season with a 16-3 mark, including the extra-inning win over Castle in the state final. He struck out 36 in 42 innings with just 12 walks, and finished with a 1.50 ERA. Grand statistics despite the change in distance from the pitching mound to home plate, from 40 to 43 feet starting this spring. She also batted .489 with 19 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Half of her hits were for extra bases, including three homers.
"I like her poise and humbleness," Berinobis said. "That's what makes her hard to beat. She knows what's going on. She's aware of what needs to be done."
In the state final, Castle rallied to tie the game 4-all and force extra innings. MPI won 10-4 in eight frames.
"She wasn't rattled at all. That's what I admire about the girl," Berinobis said. "She's got all the tools, she can hit and covers the plate well. I enjoyed watching her play."
Both phenoms can joke around a little about the state tourney. Liilii blushes a little when people bring up one of her state-tourney homers, a towering shot that hit the outfield light post halfway up.
"I didn't think it would go that far. I don't know my own strength yet," she said.