Coming on strong
KEALAKEKUA — Dave Distel has seen two baseball teams in his first year as Konawaena’s manager.
There’s the short-handed group missing a handful of key players in late February and the early-April version that’s capable of winning a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II title.
The Wildcats put the latter on display Wednesday at Konawaena, beating Hawaii Prep 7-3 to hand Ka Makani its first regular-season loss.
Konawaena’s defense turned three double plays on the infield, and Ryan Torres-Torioka made two sparkling plays at shortstop. That bailed out Jordan Miyahira-Young, who gave up nine hits through four innings but still got the win.
Offensively, the Wildcats (3-1 BIIF, 6-1 overall) collected 11 hits, with Kileona Manzano going and Shelton Grace both going 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Skye Suzuki was 2-for-3 with a triple, and Domonic Morris had two RBIs.
“We played this game as if it was a playoff game,’’ Distel said. “We wanted to establish what kind of team we are.”
The contest did not count in the BIIF standings, but both teams approached the game as if it did.
“We’re always playing to get better and improve,’’ HPA manager Jordan Hayslip said.
In the last meeting between the teams, Ka Makani (4-0, 7-1) beat the Wildcats 9-5 on Feb. 28 in Keaau’s preseason tournament.
Manzano, who banged two doubles to the left-center field gap, had that loss on his mind entering Wednesday’s game.
“That made us really want this game,’’ the senior said. “It made us dig deep.’’
Nine of Konawaena’s 11 hits came off HPA sophomore right-hander Cyrus Inglis, who carried a 4-0 record into Kealakekua.
“Early in the season, he said he was untouchable,’’ Torres-Torioka said. “That gave us more motivation to go out there and hit his fastball.’’
Inglis had been pretty close to untouchable before the game, having given up just one earned run over 20 innings in the regular season. Against Konawaena, Inglis surrendered five runs over five innings, striking out one and walking one.
Manzano said opposing pitchers have recently tried to go right after Wildcat hitters early in the count, and he expected more of the same against HPA.
“We wanted to be more aggressive because they were throwing that first-pitch fastball,’’ he said.
The first of Manzano’s two doubles plated Torres-Torioka and tied the game at 1 in the first inning. Manzano later scored on a two-out single by Zane Gray to give Konawaena the lead.
Morris made it 3-1 in the bottom of the second with a run-scoring single, but HPA scratched out two runs to tie the score, with Inglis scoring from third on a double steal in the third and Kalan Camero racing home from third on a passed ball in fourth.
Inglis and Ian Rice both finished 2-for-4.
Konawaena took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth, when Suzuki tripled with two outs and scored on a wild pitch.
“We had timely hits,’’ Distel said.
Torres-Torioka prevented a few timely hits from Ka Makani, starting two double plays at shortstop. In the third inning, he ranged far to his right to take hits away from Kama DeSilva and Lii Purdy.
On DeSilva’s grounder, Torres-Torioka made a spectacular diving stop before quickly getting to his feet and gunning down DeSilva at first.
Torres-Torioka also threw three scoreless innings in relief of Miyahira-Young. He gave up two hits, striking out two batters, walking none and hitting one.
Konawaena’s defense quickly erased two of the three batters who reached base against Torres-Torioka. Evyn Yamaguchi threw out Hea Holschuh trying to steal second in the sixth, and Jarrett Kitaoka started a 6-4-3 game-ending double play.
HPA started the first inning with three consecutive hits to load the bases, but a double play helped Miyahira-Young limit Ka Makani to just one run in the inning.
“(I was thinking) hopefully, my defense backs me up, which they did,’’ Miyahira-Young said of getting off to a rough start in the first inning. “I knew they were going to come through.’’
Left fielder D.J. Sekiya flashed some leather for HPA in the third inning, charging in to make a diving catch and take away a hit from Kitaoka.
But Hayslip said the Wildcats’ overall defense proved the difference in the game.
“They hit well, they pitched well, and definitely fielded well, turning those two double plays,’’ Hayslip said.
Konawaena played most of the preseason without Torres-Torioka, who was battling a rib injury, and Kitaoka wasn’t pitching at the time because of an ankle injury. Also, Distel said, two other players weren’t available because of off-the-field issues.
But the Wildcats are at full strength now, and Distel wanted his team to show how good they can be when they are.
“We wanted to stop (HPA’s) winning streak, and I’m sure they want to return the favor when the games do count,’’ Distel said.
Hawaii Prep 101 100 0 — 3 9 1
Konawaena 210 112 x — 7 11 0
c Honokaa 7, Kohala 4: The host Dragons improved to 2-6 overall, and Kohala dropped to 0-7.
The home team of Honokaa did not provide further information by press time.