KEALAKEKUA — After battling through 16 innings in the first two games, both Konawaena and Hawaii Preparatory Academy entered the rubber match of a best-of-3 BIIF Division II semifinal series with some pretty thin pitching staffs.
With many players unavailable due to the league’s pitch count rule, offense was set up to rule the day and the Wildcats answered the call early and often on the way to a 13-9 victory over the team they have faced in each of the last three postseasons.
For the first time under Konawaena head coach Adam Tabieros, the team that did not win the first game of the semifinals came out the victor, with the Wildcats taking the second game against Ka Makani over nine marathon innings.
“We expect nothing less than a great three-game series with HPA,” Tabieros said. “They turn it up a whole lot more in the playoffs, but luckily for us we had three games and were able to bend but not break.”
Konawaena’s offense was led by arguably two of the best hitters in the league, Tevin Canda and Jake Basque.
In Monday’s must-win game, Canda went 2 for 3 with five RBIs, two runs scored and two walks. Basque was 2 for 3 with four RBIs, three runs scored and a walk.
Canda had a bases clearing triple in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Wildcats some breathing room after their lead was cut to 10-8 in the top of the inning.
“Tevin sees the ball well and it looks like the size of a watermelon to him,” Tabieros said. “He sets the table for us and you know he is going to create something.”
Canda is every coach’s dream in the leadoff spot. He is hitting .542, with a .647 on-base percentage. Canda made his return to baseball this year after giving up the sport for a little while to focus on football.
“I regretted that I quit baseball but coach Adam wasn’t mad and allowed me to come back,” Canda said. “This has been a really fun season.”
Canda has been a scoring machine with a team high 30 runs, but the numbers that really standout for the senior are his Barry Bonds-like 14 walks to only one strikeout. These are stats that are so outstanding, they even left Canda stunned.
“Wow, I didn’t even know about the one strikeout,” Canda said with a laugh. “Now that you told me, it is a lot of pressure.”
Basque has been nearly as good as Canda at the plate this season, hitting .518. Batting from the three-hole, Basque leads the team with 30 RBIs and is second with 19 runs scored.
“Basque is really finding that power and hitting the ball hard,” Tabieros said. “He is very disciplined as well which makes him tough to pitch against.”
Basque also showed some power during the series with Hawaii Prep. The senior launched a three-run home run in the third inning of Game 1 on Friday and followed that up with another three-run shot in the bottom of the second inning in Game 3 to give the Wildcats an early 6-2 advantage.
“When I walk up to the plate I try to slow the game down and take every at-bat pitch-by-pitch,” Basque said. “I try to treat every at-bat the same. The pitcher is out there trying to work the count and get me out, and I am trying to be the better player and put the bat on the ball.”
Konawaena never trailed after picking up the second inning lead, though Ka Makani did cut into the deficit with two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth, getting as close as two runs with an at-bat to go before Canda cleared the bases in the bottom of the sixth.
Defensive miscues allowed Hawaii Prep to stay in the game. Konawaena made five errors. However, the big difference in the game was limiting Ka Makani’s offense to only two or three runs in those innings, as opposed to the five or six run blowouts that have come to plague the team over the years.
“The players put too much pressure on themselves, especially late in the game, and the postseason just adds to that,” Tabieros said. “We are trying to eliminate that big inning and keep other teams from finding momentum. And to do that you have to dance with your fear, learn to relax and live for the moment.”
The defense was helped by a pitching staff willing to battle through adversity. With their No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers unavailable for the game, the Wildcats picked up a strong start by James Kapela, though a bit of a wild one.
Kapela walked six batters but made the pitch when he needed it most, holding Hawaii Prep to five runs, three earned, through five innings. He struck out six.
“James kept us in the game, which was good,” Tabieros said. “The walks haunted him, but he made some good pitches and got some key strikeouts when he needed them.”
Boaz Ayers made the relief appearance, pitching the final two innings. He allowed four runs, three earned, while striking out one and walking none.
“I’m glad Boaz was able to come in and shut the door because we did not have all of our pitchers for this game,” Tabieros said. “He did exactly what we needed him to do.”
Ikaika Apilado had a two-hit day for Ka Makani (9-8), scoring twice. Braeden Samua got the start and took the loss, despite not allowing a single earned run. He allowed six unearned through 1 1/3 innings, walking two batters.
Next up Konawaena (11-6) is a seemingly impossible task of stopping Kamehameha (16-0) in the championship series, which starts on 3 p.m. Friday at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. The Warriors are going for their eighth straight league title.
“Not only is Kamehameha a very good team, but they are also a very disciplined team and that is what makes them different than every other team in the league,” Tabieros said. “A lot of teams have great players, but when your players are dialed in and have bought in like their players have, that is a very though combination to beat.”
The Wildcats also clinched a state berth and will make the trip to Kauai for the HHSAA state tournament in May. Tabieros is wrapping up his fifth year at Konawaena and his team has reached state four times.
“States are in a new location, which will be nice,” Tabieros said. “I have never played a game in Kauai, and I don’t know what their fields are like, but I am expecting to play some very though teams. It should be a lot of fun for everyone.”