WAILUKU - The stage was set to near perfection.
One strike away from a rare championship on home turf against a familiar foe - four years and two days after the last time it happened - Maui instead watched Oahu rally for a 3-2 win in the title game of the 77th annual state AJA baseball tournament on Sunday before about 500 fans at Maehara Stadium.
The game was sweet revenge for Waialae, the nucleus of the Oahu team that dropped a 9-8 decision in 13 innings to Maui in the 2008 final. That snapped a string of 15 straight state championships for Oahu and gave Maui its fourth crown.
Oahu’s Chad Itokazu scores as Maui’s Chase Corniel waits for a throw during the first inning of Oahu’s 3-2 victory in the AJA state tournament championship game Sunday at Maehara Stadium.
The Maui News / BRAD SHERMAN photo
The Valley Isle nine came within a strike of a fifth title on Sunday behind the solid pitching of Kalaika Kahoo-halahala, but A.D. Mols knocked a 2-2 fastball from reliever Jason Miyahira up the middle to plate Chad Itokazu with the tying run in the top of the ninth.
Chris Mols followed his brother with a single off the glove of Miya-hira and Brandon Kon brought in the go-ahead run with a single to right field. Maui got out of the inning when A.D. Mols was thrown out at the plate by right fielder Brent Fukagawa on Kon's hit, but the damage was done.
"That was a great game all the way through, Kalaika did a great job," said Mark Okano, Oahu's center fielder and a member of Na Koa Ikaika Maui in 2010 and 2011. "(Miyahira) came in throwing a real good slider, but we just got a couple big hits right there. Finally, because I think we had, like, three hits until the ninth inning. I tip my hat to Maui because they did a great job."
Okano was not part of the 2008 Waialae squad, but heard all about the mission the team had in mind this year.
"That is all they talk about, they had unfinished business," he said. "Regardless of winning Oahu, they were never satisfied."
With two outs in the top of the ninth and Itokazu on second base after a leadoff walk, Maui elected to intentionally walk pinch hitter Danny Kimura. Ryan Murakami ran for Kimura and scored the eventual winning run.
The victory - and remembering the 2008 loss - brought tears to the eyes of Oahu manager Karl Sa-danaga, who had 20 Waialae players on his 25-man team this year.
The 2008 team was the first one Sadanaga managed in the state tournament.
A group of Waialae players - the roster also included Leilehua High School football coach Nolan Tokuda and former Na Koa Ikaika Maui infielder Michael Higa - doused Sadanaga with ice water after the win.
It was the third straight state title for the Waialae nucleus.
"Winning championships is very difficult as it is, so to win another one is special because we are not sure when the next time will be that we get a chance, so every opportunity, you have to make the most of it," Sadanaga said. "There is a handful of guys here from 2008. They just told their teammates: 'Play hard, have fun, respect the game and do the best we can.' "
Kahoohalahala allowed just a first-inning run, three hits and three walks while striking out four batters in 7 1/3 innings. After Kon drew a one-out walk in the eighth, Maui called on Miyahira, who needed only five pitches to get the final two outs of the inning.
"He shut us down, he is an outstanding pitcher, a lot of guts and when we faced him today, we knew we were up for a big challenge," Sadanaga said of Kahoohalahala, who lost a 1-0 decision to Oahu in last year's semifinals. "We know every year we play with Maui it is going to be a battle. They put up a great fight. We knew it was going to be a challenge. That is a tough lineup from starters to reserves."
After Itokazu scored on Okano's sacrifice fly in the first, Kahoohalahala faced just one batter over the minimum from the second through seventh innings, with the help of two double plays.
"I knew they were going to put the bat on the ball, so all I was trying to do was throw strikes," Kahoohalahala said.
Maui took a 2-1 lead in the third. No. 9 hitter Ian Shima-buku led off with a homer to left field, and Royce Fukuroku then walked, stole second and third and scored on Gered Mochizuki's groundout. Maui did not get a runner to second base after that.
Itokazu won the Mayor's Trophy for the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Maui's Van Delos Santos won the Shane Victorino Trophy as batting champion after going 3-for-5 with two runs, an RBI and two walks. A.D. Mols received the Kurt Suzuki Trophy for most RBIs, with three, winning a tiebreaker with a better average.
"Me and Shane played together our whole lives, so it is cool to win his trophy," said Delos Santos, a 1998 Maui High graduate who faced Victorino when the current Phila-delphia Phillies outfielder was at St. Anthony.
"That was a great baseball game, Oahu had a great comeback. We just fell short, just a little bit, but we will come back and get them next time."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
|CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Oahu 3, Maui 2|
|Davin Morita, Jayson Kramer (5), Sean Yamashita (9) and Danny Nitahaara, Brandon Kon (8). Kalaika Kahoohalahala, Jason Miyahira (9) and Chase Corniel. W—Kramer. L—Miyahira. Sv—Yamashita. HR—Maui: Ian Shimabuku.|
|Leading hitter—Maui: Shimabuku 2-3, run,|
|BIG ISLAND 10, KAUAI 6, 5 INNINGS|
Aaron Correa and Bryce Onaga. Kainoa Pezario, Bradley Maruyama (5) and Brandon Ishibashi. W-Correa. L-Pezario. 2B-Big Island: Tyler Thornley. 3B-Kauai: Kainoa Santos.
Leading hitter-Kauai: Brandon Hew.