Mid-Pacific bucked recent history to repeat as Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion.
After losing to Punahou twice in the regular season, the Owls rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh and held off the Buffanblu in the bottom of the inning to claim a second straight ILH Division I softball title with a 5-4 win over the yesterday at Punahou.
In their previous meeting a week ago, Mid-Pacific, ranked second in this week’s Star-Advertiser poll, saw No. 1 Punahou pull out a 7-6 comeback win.
This time, the Owls’ bunting prowess sparked their rally in the seventh and pitcher Keiki Carlos snared a line drive to end the game with the tying run on third as the Owls secured the ILH’s seeded berth and a first-round bye in next week’s state tournament.
"Every year is different and every year is hard," MPI coach Willie Quinn said of the repeat. "Punahou’s a good team; we knew that it would be a battle. We had our ace pitcher on today so we felt good about that. The girls struggled at the plate getting hits, but we did enough."
Mid-Pacific won the ILH’s first-round title to secure a state berth and Punahou won the second round to set up yesterday’s playoff.
The Owls took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first with Carlos delivering a two-run double. Punahou answered in the bottom of the inning with Reina Furuya’s leadoff homer and scratched out three runs in the fourth to take the lead.
Punahou reliever Tai Manu-Olevao protected the lead in the fifth when MPI loaded the bases with nobody out but failed to score. She also left runners at second and third in the sixth.
Going into the seventh, the tension ticked up a notch around the field nestled in the heart of the Punahou campus … except in the batter’s box, where Carlos stepped in thinking, "just relax and have fun."
"I couldn’t stress or anything so I just thought to get on base any way I can," she said.
Carlos hit a hard shot to third and reached on an error, then stole second two pitches later.
"That was big," Quinn said. "We were going to bunt her over but it helps to save outs in that situation."
Jordan Joy reached on a bunt single, moving Carlos to third. Joy then stole second on the first pitch. Quinn kept the bunt sign on again for Kacy Aoki, who then dropped a squeeze to drive in the tying run.
"Kacy is our best bunter," Quinn said. "Any time she’s at the plate with a runner at third I trust she’s going to do it."
With Joy now on third, Tori Hamura lifted a fly ball into shallow center and Joy beat the throw to the plate to give the Owls the lead.
"That’s our fastest runner and that was pretty shallow but we had to take a chance," said Quinn, who was coaching third base.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jaci Young led off with a single to right and advanced to third on successive bunts. Vanessa Va‘a then drilled a liner that smacked into Carlos’ glove for the final out.
"It was kind of like slow motion," said Carlos, who struck out six on her way to the complete-game win.
Both teams will regroup for what promises to be a wide-open state tournament. Punahou entered last year’s tournament as the ILH’s second seed and reached the championship game before falling to Campbell.
"We’ve achieved a lot of things and we just told them we just have to shake it off and get ready for states," Punahou coach Bob Makahilahila said.
"We just have to keep our heads up and do the job like we did last year."
Mid-Pacific (14-4) 300 000 2 — 5 9 3
Punahou (14-3) 100 300 0 — 4 7 2
Keiki Carlos and Kaydi Kochi. Jaci Young, Tai Manu-Olevao (5) and Kayla Shimoda. W—Carlos. L—Manu-Olevao.
Leading hitters—MPI: Tasi Docktor, 2-2; Kochi, 2-3, run; Carlos, 2-3, 2b, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, sb; Kacy Aoki, 2 RBIs; Tori Hamura, 2b, RBI. Punahou: Reina Furuya, 3-4, HR; Shimoda, RBI; Ari Hashimoto, RBI.