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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What a finish!

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

When the final play of the 2004-2005 Hawai'i high school sports year was completed at about 10:15 on Saturday night, the Punahou baseball team swarmed onto the Les Murakami Stadium infield and piled onto one another in jubilation after a 3-1 state championship victory over Kailua.

The Punahou baseball team beat Kailua, 3-1, in the state final at Les Murakami Stadium to back up its national rankings in the USA Today and Baseball America polls.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It was an explosion of emotion, the only time all year we allowed them to celebrate like that," Punahou coach Eric Kadooka said. "We finally got the job done."

The win not only capped a 34-2-1 season in which the Buffanblu earned spots in both the USA Today Super 25 and Baseball America national polls, it also validated Punahou's No. 4 rating by Sports Illustrated among the country's 38,000-plus high school athletic departments in its May 16 issue.

On Friday, the Buffanblu girls basketball team won their second state title in three years after a pulsating 52-50 double-overtime win over Konawaena. The week before, Punahou captured state championships in girls water polo, girls track and field plus girls and boys tennis, and earlier the Buffanblu won state titles in boys and girls volleyball, in addition to girls soccer.

Punahou athletic director Tom Holden said the school's success in athletics is due to several factors, not the least of which is participation in a multitude of sports programs, from intermediate (seventh and eighth grade) to varsity, from gymnastics to sailing.

"We have some incredibly talented athletes, but we also have extremely competent and dedicated coaches plus strong support from our parents and administration in all of the sports," Holden said. "We also get great competition throughout the year, which is why it's really the whole state that shares in this (Sports Illustrated) honor. I mean, we had an incredible spring season, but if you look at it closely, in girls tennis we were one match away from being runner-up; in girls basketball we were one tick of the clock away from losing; in baseball we needed one run in the bottom of the seventh inning to get out of the semifinals and in girls track we had to come from behind against Baldwin.

"Even in girls water polo, we had tremendous competition from Kamehameha just to get to the state tournament. It was pretty competitive in every sport."

"Sheer sportsmanship"

The action-packed sports year came to a dramatic conclusion in the girls basketball and baseball championship games.

Shanna-Lei Dacanay, third from left, compared first-place medals with teammates after Punahou held on for a double-overtime win over Konawaena.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

In the basketball final, played before 3,060 screaming fans at Stan Sheriff Center, Haunani Liftee sank a free throw with eight seconds remaining to give defending champion Konawaena a 41-39 lead. The Buffanblu then raced down the court and senior guard Ciana Aiwohi made a driving left-handed layup to tie it just before the horn.

In the two overtime periods, both teams fought and clawed their way through and were fighting total exhaustion by the time it was over.

Three days later, the thrill of the game apparently had not diminished, as it was a water cooler topic of conversation for anyone who watched it live or on TV.

"In the last couple minutes of the second overtime, I remember thinking, 'Even if we lose, it shouldn't matter too much because all of those girls should be proud just to be a part of a game like this,' " Holden said. "That was the treat of the whole thing: seeing how the kids reacted to every situation. The sheer sportsmanship we saw in that final, plus the fact that both teams left everything on the floor at the end — that goes far beyond winning and losing.

"I think it elevated things to where we hope all high school games can be played like that."

Never giving up

In the baseball semifinals, No. 4 seed Waiakea pushed Punahou to the limit and had the go-ahead run on second base with one out in the top of the seventh. That's when ace Jared Pate came in for a rare relief appearance and got a groundout and strikeout to escape the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Bucky Aona hit a routine fly ball that fell into left field to score Reyn Kubota with the winning run in a 3-2 victory.

The next night, before a vocal crowd of 2,743, Pate took a perfect game into the fifth inning and had a one-hitter going after six as the Buffanblu built a 3-0 lead.

But the Surfriders got their first two runners aboard in the seventh and scored a run on a double-play grounder. The final outcome wasn't sealed until Pate ended the game with a strikeout.

"Our guys understand baseball, and they know that it's never over until the last out is made," said Kailua coach Corey Ishigo, whose team entered the O'ahu Interscholastic Association playoffs as a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Division yet won the league title with four wins in consecutive days. "We faced elimination games the first two days and came through, and even (against Punahou) they never did quit. I'm really proud of them for that."

Kadooka said despite Pate's dominant performance the first six innings, he wasn't surprised by the Surfriders' tenacity and never felt safe with the 3-0 lead.

"I totally expected Kailua to challenge us at the end," Kadooka said. "That team doesn't give up, and we were lucky because if even one ground ball went through, it could have been a different game."

It was a fitting end to the sports year, which saw several upsets and nail-biting finishes. It also gave credence to Punahou's national recognition, both in baseball and sports overall.

"It allows our school a sense of pride, but it also brings a lot of attention to all of our athletes in Hawai'i," Holden said. "Clearly, Hawai'i's kids have shown they can compete against anybody."

Reach Wes Nakama at wnakama@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2456.

• • •


Punahou 9 Boys volleyball, girls volleyball, girls soccer, boys tennis, girls tennis, girls track and field, water polo, baseball, Division I girls basketball
Kamehameha 9 Boys cross country, girls cross country, Division I football, boys soccer, boys paddling, girls paddling, boys wrestling, cheerleading (large division), boys track and field
Iolani 4 Boys basketball, boys swimming, girls swimming, girls wrestling
Pearl City 2 Boys judo, girls judo
Waiakea 2 Boys air riflery, girls golf
‘Aiea 1 Girls bowling
Campbell 1 Division II football
Castle 1 Mixed paddling
Hawai‘i Baptist 1 Boys bowling
Kamehameha-Hawai‘i 1 Division II girls basketball
Kaua‘i 1 Boys golf
Moanalua 1 Cheerleading (medium division)
Mililani 1 Division I softball
Sacred Hearts 1 Girls air riflery
St. Francis 1 Division II softball

Nation's best

Sports Illustrated listed the nation's top athletic programs. Criteria emphasized all-around excellence during the past 10 years and included state titles won and college athletes produced.

1, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
Enrollment: 4,750

2, DeMatha
Hyattsville, Md.
Enrollment: 1,016

3, Saint Thomas Aquinas
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Enrollment: 2,138

4, Punahou
Enrollment: 1,730

5, Cherry Creek
Greenwood Village, Colo.
Enrollment: 3,653

6, Mater Dei
Santa Ana, Calif.
Enrollment: 2,200

7, Parkview
Lilburn, Ga.
Enrollment: 2,620

8, Edina Minnesota
Enrollment: 1,675 (gr. 10-12)

9, Bolles
Jacksonville, Fla.
Enrollment: 778

10, Carmel
Enrollment: 3,795

11, De La Salle
Concord, Calif.
Enrollment: 1,007