The steely seniors of Mid-Pacific know comeback baseball well.
This time, though, senior Trey Saito made sure there was no such drama. The self-described “non-athlete” fired a two-hitter as No. 1 Mid-Pacific blanked No. 6 ‘Iolani 6-0 to capture the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship on Thursday at MPI’s Damon Field.
“I visualized myself last night and went through the mental process with my uncle. That helped me out a lot,” Saito said. “I was really nervous before this big game. I took deep breaths and praised God for everything, for giving me the ability to throw a game like this, and for my defense, especially.”
It’s MPI’s second ILH crown in a row.
Regular-season champion MPI (14-3) captured the league’s double-elimination tournament with the win, depriving ‘Iolani (7-9) of a state-tournament berth for now.
The Raiders will play Saint Louis (second place in the regular season) today at Ala Wai Community Park for that second ILH state berth.
An ‘Iolani win would’ve forced an overall championship game today between the two teams. Instead, MPI played the role of a seasoned championship team.
After a wild 14-9 MPI win over ‘Iolani on Wednesday, Thursday’s game was all about the Owls’ defense and Saito’s quick-paced, efficient pitching. He fanned three and walked just one — in the final inning — and retired 10 Raiders in a row during the middle innings.
Saito had a no-hitter going into the sixth when Joshua Inouye socked a liner to left to end it. ‘Iolani’s only other hit was a single by Corey Nakakura, Saito’s counterpart, in the seventh.
“I was kind of thinking about (the no-hitter), but I’d rather trust my defense and Isiah,” he said of Owls shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had two gems on tough ground balls.
Of the 21 outs he recorded, 14 came on ground balls.
“Everything worked today. I mixed pitches and let the defense get the ball,” said Saito, who threw just 54 pitches until the seventh inning, when he threw 27 more. “I can always trust my defense.”
A couple of weeks ago, during MPI’s postgame senior-day celebration, Saito described himself as “no talent and all heart.”
Kiner-Falefa credited his teammates for their perspective.
“Everything was easy because (Saito) was quick and throwing strikes,” he said. “We work hard. We don’t chirp. We’re not a loud team. When we play loud, we can’t do good. We play our game.”
It was the kind of baseball that Owls coach Dunn Muramaru enjoys.
“He got ahead and that’s how he’s been pitching all year. I felt pretty good with him going today,” Muramaru said, noting that the first-round bye at the state tournament next week is “huge.”
“We’ll probably face the other team’s No. 2 pitcher. When we had to play (in the opening round), it’s a tough game. That first day is really tough, playing in a new place against a team we’ve never faced before,” Muramaru added.
It is the 10th league title under Muramaru, who began coaching at MPI in 1986.
“This team was a lot more experience. Low maintenance. They take care of themselves. You tell them something and they do it. They bought in. The stuff on the shirt: ‘Team First.’ This is a good bunch.”
The Owls reached Nakakura for four runs in the bottom of the second without an extra-base hit.
Cameron Igarashi’s single to left with the bases loaded brought Daniel Fentriss in for the first run.
Ryne Saiki followed with a walk, forcing Bryce Asao home from third, and Cal Muramaru’s sacrifice fly to center brought Brent Sakurai in for MPI’s third run.
Kiner-Falefa’s groundout to third plated Igarashi, and the Owls led 4-0.
Fentriss doubled to left in the third and came home on a two-out single to left by Sakurai for a five-run margin.
The Owls added one run in the fourth, when Saiki led off with a walk, stole second, went to third on a bunt single by Muramaru and scored on the ensuing throwing error by third baseman Kainoa Fong.
By then, Saito was sailing along, mixing his four pitches. ‘Iolani had runners in scoring position only in the second and seventh innings.
Nakakura went the distance, scattering seven hits.
Now, Muramaru will get a chance to see Saint Louis and ‘Iolani play.
“I don’t know who’ll win, but it’ll be fun to watch. Those teams will be battling,” he said.
At Damon Field
‘Iolani (7-9) 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
Mid-Pac. (14-3) 041 100 x — 6 7 1
Corey Nakakura and Joshua Inaba. Trey Saito and Marcus Doi. W—Saito. L—Doi.
Leading hitters—‘Iolani: none. MPI: Brent Sakurai 2-3, RBI, run; Cameron Igarashi 2-3, double, run.