‘Typical Hilo vs. Waiakea game’ ends in controversy

Hilo’s fluorescent green jerseys were a dead giveaway. This wasn’t Vikings-Warriors baseball.

It only seemed like it.

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“Typical Hilo vs. Waiakea game,” Kaikua Kokubun said after collecting four hits.

There were easily enough sound fundamentals, lead changes, extra-inning drama — and, as it turned out, game-changing controversy — to pack a BIIF championship series, much less a riveting wooden bat league game on a lazy, overcast Sunday afternoon at Walter Victor complex.

Hilo’s Devin Saltiban received some good-natured ribbing from his teammates for his a one-hopper from third base on a groundball, a throw that was plucked by Kokubun at first base in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“I was just nervous, but I got it there,” Saltiban said.

No harm, no foul, especially since the Hilo High sophomore seemingly came up with the timeliest hit in a game that was defined by them, giving his team the lead in the top of the eighth en route to what Hilo left the park thinking was an 8-6 victory.

“Just put my head in the zone and line drive it, just want to make my team happy,” Saltiban said. “When the pressure was one, just trying to get that hit.”

The teams combined for only one error, however, there was a big gaffe committed by the Hilo coaching staff, which didn’t include coach Baba Lancaster on Sunday. More than an hour after the game, a league administrator told the Tribune-Herald that Hilo was declared the loser due to the use of an ineligible player, pitcher Hekili Robello.

Robello threw 40-some pitches Saturday in a game in Honokaa, enough to mandate that he get a day of rest, according to a high school rule. Instead, Robello was inserted into the game in the bottom of the seventh, and he would have earned the win had he been eligible.

Waiakea almost won the game conventionally. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh and two outs, Yukon Yomono sent a line drive down the first base line that “was barely out,” Kokubun said. “It was literally right outside the line.”

Yomono was hit by a pitch to the tie the game, and that was when Robello was summoned to get out of the jam.

Kedren Kinzie slammed a home run to left, hit a double and scored twice for Waiakea.

On both sides, hitters “stayed in the zone,” Saltiban said, delivering again and again with clutch two-out hits.

In the top the fifth, Higen Hatayama’s two-run single to center to gave Hilo a 6-4 lead. Saltiban’s hit to center in the fourth tied it 4-4, after Carson Kawaguchi lifted Waiakea in front by finding a hole to bring in two runs in the third. Kokubun’s single in the top of the third scored Josh Ward (2 for 4), who had ripped an RBI double to the gap. Elijah Igawa’s single to center in the bottom of the second tied it 1-1 for Waiakea.

“Coach has told us to put the bat on the ball and we just do our job up there,” Kokubun said. “Pretty simple, don’t do too much. Make plays, that’s all you have to do.”

Kaynan Kaku collected two hits, including a double, and an RBI for Hilo, which got 4 1/3 innings out of starting pitcher Kellan Turner. Kekoa Ogawa worked 2 1/3 innings.

Carson Kawaguchi (three innings), Braxton Cagampang (two) and Dylan Honda (three innings, four strikeouts) pitched for Waiakea.

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Next season, Hilo and Waiakea hope to resume their BIIF rivalry, perhaps setting the controversy to the side.

“My goal next season is to play the game, have fun, have people notice and put this island on the map,” said Kokubun, a junior.

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