KAILUA-KONA — As the ball rolled slowly down the first base line it felt like every man, woman and child in the vicinity of Kealakehe High School was holding their breath.
All eyes turned to the home plate umpire as Kealakehe’s first baseman Lisan Mudong scooped up the ball just above the chalked line and stepped on first.
What would the call be, fair or four?
After seconds, which felt like minutes, the man behind the plate called “fair” and the historic out was marked officially in the scorebook.
After the call there was a brief moment of hesitation by the Kealakehe players, who had just claimed the schools first ever BIIF softball title with a 14-6 victory in Game 2 of the Division I championship series on Saturday against Waiakea.
It was a situation the Waverider players had not been in before. Especially for this particular group of girls, some who had only experienced the slow walk off the field after watching the Warriors claim the previous three league crowns.
They froze, just for a moment, and its easy to understand why. But what do they do now?
Finally, the players bolted toward the dugout, with third baseman Kaylyn “Bu” Villanueva the first to arrive. The second on the scene was Telsea Taketa, who earned the Game 1 victory and threw three innings in relief in Game 2. She jumped into Villanueva’s arms and the rest of the team was right on her heels.
The celebration had begun.
“This was long overdue,” Kealakehe head coach Loni Mercado said. “Today was the day the girls decided it was time to break the streak and bring the title to this school.
“The win was inevitable. This is such a great accomplishment for the school, and it shows we have great talent here.”
Kealakehe’s sweep in the best-of-3 series with Waiakea, the heavy favorites to win their fifth consecutive championship, was a surprise to many and seemed to come out of nowhere. The Waveriders never showed they could top the Warriors during the regular season, losing 10-5 in the league opener before being mercy ruled 14-1 at the end of March.
“We tell the girls all the time that the season is practice for the big stage,” Mercado said. “Yeah, we didn’t have the best record we could have had this year. There were a lot of games we should have won and we didn’t, but those were all learning moments for this team to set us up for the win today.”
The first game of the series on Friday was a nail-biter, with Kealakehe edging the Warriors 11-9 in a marathon eight-inning contest.
Game 2 was shaping up to be the same way, with Kealakehe taking an early 3-0 advantage in the bottom of the first inning before a three-run home run by Waiakea’s Lyndsey-Mae Carvalho tied the game in the top of the second.
The Waveriders took the lead back in the bottom of the third off a solo home run by the scorching Nanea Kaluau. Kaluau had another big game, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs and three runs. She also moved from shortstop to catcher to help out defensively after a pitching change.
“I was a little surprised that they wanted me to catch, but I was ready to do it,” Kaluau said. “I was happy to do anything I could to help out.”
Kealakehe’s lead did not last long, with Waiakea pushing three runs across the plate in the top of the fourth. Both Kayla Kodani and Sarahlin Likiaksa reached base, and Kodani came around to score on a wild pitch. Carvalho then stepped to the plate and hit her second home run of the game.
“Lyndsey-Mae was our player previously and she has been such a thorn in our side,” Mercado said with a laugh. “I am super proud that she has grown and matured so much. She did big things in her senior campaign.”
In the fifth inning, the game quickly changed from a back-and-forth slugfest to a blowout.
Taking advantage of a couple of defensive miscues and some walks, the Waveriders put a few timely hits together to push nine runs across the plate.
Mia Joaquin led off the inning with a triple to right. After Taketa reached base, Kaluau singled to center to bring Joaquin in. Kenye Palik hit a grounder to third but the Waiakea third baseman couldn’t decide where to go with the ball, and the bases were loaded with no outs.
Lucky Isisaki also hit the ball to third, but an error on the throw home allowed two runs to come in. A wild pitch plated the fourth run of the inning and Isisaki scored on a Mudong single to right.
Mudong finished with a game-high three hits, which included three RBIs.
“I just wanted to go up to the plate, hit the ball hard and get on base,” Mudong said. “We knew we would need to score first and often. Winning a BIIF championship was our dream. We all fought and the outcome was what we wanted.”
Mudong also fielded the final grounder of the game and all she could think as the ball rolled toward her was, “don’t miss.”
“I knew it could potentially be the last out of the game and I didn’t want to mess it up,” she said.
After Mudong’s single, Courtney Nagata and Villanueva walked to continue the inning. A sac fly by Joaquin scored Mudong and then the bases were cleared on a Taketa seeing-eye triple that somehow managed to avoid the gloves of the Waiakea second baseman and right fielder.
Despite only being a freshman, Joaquin received the starting nod inside the circle and held most of the Waiakea batters in check. Only Carvalho, who knocked in five of the Warriors’ six runs gave her trouble. Joaquin threw four innings, allowing six runs off three hits. She walked three.
“I wasn’t pitching for myself today, I was pitching for my team,” said Joaquin. “I was able to shake off the home runs and I received a lot of confidence from my teammates.”
Taketa threw the final three innings. Despite feeling sore from the previous day’s workload, she was lights out, allowing only two hits, while striking out one. She did not issue a walk.
“I was really nervous coming in but I pitched as hard as I could and gave it my all,” Taketa said. “I was super sore beforehand, but was icing down and was ready to push through it and come in.”
Taketa admitted to having an out-of-body experience during the last out.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We didn’t beat Waiakea all season and to sweep them was just crazy. I was so happy.”
Alyssa McKeague threw six innings for Waiakea, taking the loss after allowing 12 earned runs off eight hits. She walked 10. Along with Carvalho, Johnacy Mackwelung also finished with two hits.
Kealakehe (11-6) will now prepare for the HHSAA state tournament, which starts on Oahu May 1 at the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
“First year at states no one knew who we were or where we came from,” Mercado said. “But now they see us more and more, and this year proves that we belong. Team on Oahu will have to get used to us being there.”
Mercado believes that this is a special team and they can do well at the state level, despite the elevated level of play.
“Not to take anything away from our kids, but teams on Oahu are at a different level, so we will have to be prepared,” Mercado said. “This team believes in each other and they get along well. They are a big, goofy bunch and that is what makes them special.”
Waiakea (12-4) will compete in a play-in game on Wednesday at Kealakehe High School for a shot to reach the state tournament.