With a mild wind whipping up the red dirt on the Ewa plains Saturday, a large gathering of fans showed up at the Campbell baseball field.
It was like any other spring Saturday except for one thing: the knowledge that this early-season game might be the last due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has canceled or postponed most pro, college, high school and recreational sports around the nation and in Hawaii.
One day earlier, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association in conjunction with its five member leagues pulled the plug on the state’s spring sports until further notice. That suspension starts Monday. Safety in the face of the virus is paramount.
But the Campbell and Mililani players got one last chance to bask in the sun and on the diamond. They’re hoping they can do it again before spring is over. They’ve been practicing for a bid at the upcoming state tournament and now are left with a void.
But this one just might be the last. A mini OIA championship, perhaps. After all, the Trojans are the defending titlists, having beaten the Sabers in the title game a year ago.
But Campbell got the best of Mililani on Saturday, taking a big first-inning lead and then holding on for a 12-8 victory.
“This was a huge win for us, especially since we lost to them in the OIA championship game last year,” Sabers starting and winning pitcher Dayton Robinson said. “We were playing this one like it was our last. We put our hearts into it and tried our hardest.”
Pitching control problems hurt the Trojans early, with Campbell (2-0 OIA West) scoring 11 times in the first inning. But control issues haunted the Sabers late, leading to Mililani’s comeback.
The Trojans’ only lead came in the top of the first, when Charles Winchester hammered a two-run homer.
But Winchester, a left-hander, suffered on the mound, getting tagged for six runs in Campbell’s bottom of the inning rally. Reliever Tanner Moran didn’t fare any better, allowing the next five Sabers runs before settling down.
Sixteen batters came to the plate for the Sabers in that first frame, with Z Takayama drilling a two-run single, Devin Gallano hitting two RBI singles and Ty Stephens and Varen Sabino also coming through with RBI hits.
The Trojans (1-1) got a run back in the third, making it 11-3 on Winchester’s booming hit over the center fielder’s head that ended up as just an RBI single. But three runners got erased from the bases to put a crimp on any kind of long rally.
“All of us were expecting a long season,” Winchester said. “But it’s just the way life goes, I guess. I could have done better (on the mound). Today wasn’t my day. We all have those days.”
Gallano drilled another run-scoring single for a 12-3 count in the fifth before Mililani erupted for five in the sixth, when Robinson — who had been breezing along — began to struggle. It took two relievers to get out of the trouble, but not before three Trojans scored on wild pitches, Alex Keliiholokai hit a sacrifice fly and Kalvin Choe added an RBI single for what turned out to be the final 12-8 score.
“Two of our guys (Winchester and Moran) had trouble throwing strikes,” Trojans coach Mark Hirayama said. “You can’t do that against a good team that’s going to put the ball in play.”
Campbell relievers Diego Tabada and Zach Palipti combined to throw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to finish off the win.
“None of us are taking breaks,” the Sabers’ Robinson said. “Just in case, we’ll all be working on our own — any way to put in the work.”