WAILUKU - No matter what happens next week, Na Koa Ikaika Maui went out with a bang at Maehara Stadium.
After drawing crowds of more than 1,000 three nights in a row for the first time this season, Na Koa had 612 fans on hand Sunday in their final home game of the season, and the team showed its appreciation with a 12-2 win over the Hawaii Stars.
"That was great, I was happy to play in front of a big crowd," said Maui High School graduate Kalaika Kahoohalahala. "Hopefully next year they will come out like this again."
‘It is good to play in front of this kind of electricity. I’m glad it turned out to be like this this year and hopefully it will continue for us on the road. We are not done yet. I think we are ready, we are excited and it showed today.’
– Mark Okano
Na Koa will play a three-game championship series with San Rafael on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Pacifics' Albert Park. It is a tweak to the schedule that was to end with six regular-season games against the Pacifics before the North Division champion would have met the first-place Southern Division team in a best-of-five series for the North American League title.
The Southern Division, made up of six teams in Texas, backed out of playing the North Division champion last week, Na Koa said.
Maui (33-27) climbed to a season-best six games over .500 on Sunday and moved one game behind San Rafael in the standings, although that is now moot.
"Hopefully we can keep this going, we are playing pretty well right now," Kahoohalahala said after Na Koa finished 10-8 against the expansion Stars this season, including 4-2 this week.
Maui manager Jamie Vermilyea said he will go with Sunday's winner, Chad Blackwell (9-1) in the opener of the three-game division series. Jesse Smith (9-2, with a league-leading 1.54 ERA) with get a short outing on Tuesday and then go either Saturday or Sunday. The other starter for the division series will be Mike Williams (2-5).
"I don't know if (the South Division) is scared of us out here, but we are going to take what we can get," Vermilyea said. "It's just a three-game playoff series with San Rafael, so be it. We are going to go out there and handle our business and try to put a 'W' on the season."
Blackwell said he is ready after the past week, which included a benches-clearing brawl on Wednesday.
"The fans support has been fantastic all week, we had a little fire from that fight the other night and the fans saw in the newspaper and came out and we played a lot of good baseball," Blackwell said.
Na Koa are 8-10 against the Pacifics this season, but when they met at Maehara two weeks ago, Maui took four of six games.
"We struggled against them a little bit early, but we have been playing them better. I think we are in the best position we can be," Blackwell said.
The Stars (25-29) scored twice in the top of the first inning, but Maui answered right back to two runs in the bottom half.
Na Koa broke it open with a four-run third, taking the lead when Waylen Sing Chow scored on a grounder that turned into an error by Nick Valdez. Rick added another RBI single with the bases loaded, a walk to Gered Mochizuki forced in a run, and Sandoval scored on a groundout by Keith Kandell.
The scored 6-2 lead that stayed that way until the final home inning of the season.
In the bottom of the eighth, Maui exploded for six runs. Chemah Sanchez drove in A.J. Alexander with a sharp single to right, Kahoohalahala singled to score Sing Chow and then Mark Okano - the original Na Koa player - hit a two-run double to the wall in left-center. Mochizuki, the original Maui member of the team, rolled a two-run single up the middle to cap the scoring.
The final uprising had a very local flavor - Alexander attended Kamehameha Maui, Kahoohalahala went to Maui High, Sing Chow is a Kamehameha Kapalama product and Okano went to Aiea. Mochizuki is a Baldwin graduate.
Okano, 33, is hitting just .168 on the season, but was clearly excited by his double in the eighth.
"It is good to play in front of this kind of electricity," he said. "I'm glad it turned out to be like this this year and hopefully it will continue for us on the road. We are not done yet. I think we are ready, we are excited and it showed today."
Okano said he will be back next year, if the opportunity arises.
"Oh for sure, I feel good," he said. "That's why I do yoga and I try to eat healthy. I love baseball."
*Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawaii ......200 ....... 000 ...... 000-2 ........ 8 ........ 2
Maui .........204 ....... 000 ...... 06x-12 ...... 10 ...... 0
John Holley, Cortney Arruda (6), Mike Kenui (8), Bryan Herrera (8) and Adam Jacobs; Chad Blackwell, Yoshihiro Doi (7), Mike Koons (8), Victor Ferrante (9) and Nick Valdez. W-Blackwell, 9-1. L-Holley, 0-4. 2B-Hawaii, Arnoldo Ponce; Maui, Okano.