Good defense, solid hitting at a premium in Division I
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
With no truly dominant pitcher at this week's Data House Division I State Softball Championships, coaches agree the title is — more so than in the recent past — totally up for grabs.
The 12-team tournament begins tomorrow with four first-round games at the University of Hawai'i's Rainbow Wahine Stadium. The top four seeds — No. 1 Kamehameha, No. 2 Kailua, No. 3 Baldwin and No. 4 Hilo — received first-round byes and begin play in Thursday's quarterfinals.
Recent state tournaments featured strikeout pitchers like Courtney Kessell (Kailua), Sarah Weisskopf (Punahou), Miki Asamura (Mililani) and Leo Sing Chow (Kamehameha) who made their teams favorites in the chase for the crown. But though this tournament does not have a shortage of outstanding pitchers, most of them are not the type to notch more than five or six strikeouts per game. That likely will put a premium on hitting and defense, since the ball has a better chance of being put into play.
"It's probably going to come down to which team has the hottest bats, and defense is a must," said Kamehameha coach Ty Sing Chow. "Execution will be important, too, because there probably are going to be a lot of close games."
Sing Chow's Warriors already have been through that in the regular season, edging Pac-Five 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, then rallying past St. Francis 6-2 after a grand slam in the bottom of the 12th.
"I think winning those games were good for us, mentally and emotionally," Sing Chow said. "It's good to win the close ones, because if it's gonna come down to that this week, hopefully we'll be able to battle and come out on top again."
Kailua coach Bernard Victor said his team comes into the tournament playing its best softball of the season, but knows that with Kessell graduated and playing for Hawai'i Pacific University, the pressure will be on his defense to support sophomore pitchers Ashley Hopfe and Krista Dumandan.
"All of the teams are going to be tough; I wouldn't want to predict who will win," said Victor, who has guided the Surfriders to four state championships since 1995. "They have good pitchers in this tournament, and anybody can have a good day. I just hope our defense holds up and we don't make errors, because any time you put the ball in play, that's what can happen."
A record seven teams from the O'ahu Interscholastic Association are in the field, and Pearl City coach Keoke Behic said all of them deserve to be there. Five of the teams come from the OIA's Western Division, including Campbell — which finished 6-6 and fifth in the regular-season standings.
The Sabers earned the state tournament berth after upsetting Kaimuki, 4-0, in the first round of the league playoffs and then defeating East champion Castle, 6-2, in the seventh-place game.
"They always play us tough," said Behic, whose Chargers face Campbell tomorrow. "The West was really tough this year."
Here are some of the key factors and players expected to make a difference in this week's race for the state title:
Kamehameha may be the No. 1 seed, but the Warriors (13-1) do not have the most tournament experience.
"We really have only four girls — Noe (Esperas), Charina (Sumner), Kaui (Tom) and Alyssa (Bergado) — who have played in these big state tournament games," Sing Chow said. "The rest of our team is really green, so we've had to talk to them about what to expect."
By contrast, six Mililani players — pitcher Makani Duhaylonsod, catcher Skye Virtudes, second baseman Casey Sugihara, shortstop Kim Goo, third baseman Dana Lee and right fielder Charity Senas — started in last year's state championship game. Duhaylonsod was the winning pitcher and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Kapolei also has a pitcher — senior Tajia Acierto — who won a state title game (in 2004). Infielder Jasmine Yoro also started in that championship game two years ago.
Meanwhile, Campbell senior Anita Manuma already has two state gold medals. She was a starter on Kapolei's title team in 2004 and played shortstop on St. Francis' Division II title squad last year.
Baldwin pitcher Nicole Alconcel, though just a junior, already has started in two state quarterfinal games. Pearl City pitchers/third basemen Marina Gusman-Brown and Corrie Nishikida will be starting in their third straight state tournament.
Kailua's defense has been led by senior shortstop Sydney Kaneshiro, another transfer from St. Francis. In Saturday's OIA championship victory over Leilehua, Kaneshiro made several outstanding plays to rob the Mules of base hits.
Mililani's Kim Goo, Leilehua's Nikki Ige, Pearl City's Sanoe Aina and Kamehameha's Tom also are sharp fielders at shortstop, as are Sugihara, Sumner and Pearl City's Kanani Numata at second base. Aina played on Waipi'o's Little League World Series team in 2002.
Kailua's Shyenne Hussey and Lee are veteran fielders at third, and Kailua's Brittany Tokunaga and Mililani's Virtudes are strong defensive catchers.
Several players can change the game with one mighty swing. Lee and Hussey hit huge home runs in last year's tournament. Kamehameha's Dara Pagaduan and St. Francis' Shannon Lum each hit game-winning grand slams in the regular season, and Leilehua's Tiana Vierra beat OIA East champion Castle with a two-run homer in the top of the seventh. Tokunaga also has home run power, as does Baldwin catcher Sanoe Kekahuna. Kapolei sophomore Ka'ili Smith and Campbell freshman Kai Clark are two of the state's top young hitters.
Sugihara, Sumner and Gusman-Brown are dangerous leadoff batters with speed on the bases, and Manuma hits and runs well from the No. 2 spot. Nishikida is a tough out and clutch batter with runners on.
Reach Wes Nakama at email@example.com.