Konawaena’s Evyn Yamaguchi slides safely into home plate ahead of the tag of Hawaii Prep’s Koa Ellis Jr. Konawaena defeated HPA 11-1 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II baseball tournament semifinal. Konawaena will play Kamehameha-Hawaii at 3 p.m. today. (Brad Ballesteros/Stephens Media)
HILO — Konawaena right-hander Jordan Miyahira-Young threw effective fastballs, relied on his flawless defense and worked coach Dave Distel’s businesslike approach to perfection, maintaining his mastery against Hawaii Prep.
Miyahira-Young fired a four-hitter, and the Wildcats swung blazing bats to hammer HPA 11-1 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II semifinals on Friday at Wong Stadium.
The game ended after five innings because of the league’s 10-run mercy rule.
With the win, Konawaena (12-2) secured its sixth straight berth in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through May 11 at Oahu’s Hans L’Orange Field.
At 3 p.m. today, the Wildcats will play Kamehameha-Hawaii at Wong Stadium for the BIIF Division II championship.
The Warriors are the defending BIIF champion. The Wildcats won the title the year before. Kamehameha snagged it in 2010, starting the trading.
“I liked how our defense backed me up and how our bats were on,” Miyahira-Young said. “I just tried to get strike one over and get ahead. Everyone was more focused with the bats, and it feels pretty good to go to states.”
Last season, Miyahira-Young was a backup, used mostly as a pinch runner. A year later, he emerged as the staff ace for the Wildcats, who have qualified for the state tournament every year since statewide classification in 2008. He said he didn’t do much different coming into the season, only getting a chance and making the most of it.
“Jordan is competitive. He’s a bulldog and never changes. He’s always the same on the mound,” Distel said. “He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but he’s got excellent control. He spots everything where he wants.”
Miyahira-Young is the third different ace in the past three years. Last season, it was Ryan Torres-Torioka, who is also a shortstop. The year before it was Jarrett Kitaoka, who is now a second baseman. Both suffered early injuries, and Miyahira-Young stepped into the role as the No. 1 starter.
Miyahira-Young threw 51 pitches for the complete-game gem, walking four and striking out none to finish 3-0 against Ka Makani (10-5). Miyahira-Young doesn’t throw hard, but he kept the ball down and turned into a ground-ball machine. Of his 15 outs, eight were on the ground, giving his defense, especially Torres-Torioka, a chance to show its glove work.
Torres-Torioka, who landed a scholarship at Hawaii Pacific University, flashed his smooth hands, nice range and strong arm, throwing out six runners at first base. A highlight play came in the third inning with leadoff hitter Koa Ellis at bat. Ellis hit a grounder headed up the middle. Torres-Torioka, who was stationed in the shortstop’s hole, scampered far to his left, scooped up the ball and, in one fluid motion, gunned down Ellis while on the run.
Like Miyahira-Young, HPA starter D.J. Sekiya doesn’t throw hard. The sophomore left-hander offers a different look than Miyahira-Young, who has a conventional three-quarter pitching motion. Sekiya has a split-second pitching pause before his lead foot hits the ground — a mechanism designed to keep his weight back.
However, Sekiya didn’t have pinpoint control. He lasted 3 1/3 innings and threw 58 pitches in the loss, surrendering four runs on three hits. He struck out three and walked four, getting the Wildcats to fish for a few pitches and pulling the string with a change-up for one strikeout. He gave way to Ellis, who pitched the final 1 2/3 innings and yielded seven runs on eight hits.
It was obvious from the start that the two teams employed different hitting strategies. HPA swung often at first-pitch fastballs against Miyahira-Young while Konawaena brought patience to the plate against Sekiya, who had a three-ball count on five of the first six batters.
The lone exception was junior first baseman Zane Gray, a transfer from HPA who dropped a sacrifice bunt to move Kitaoka to third base in the second inning. Kitaoka led off with a walk and later scored on a wild pitch.
“We faced D.J. four times and knew his style,” Gray said. “We anticipated and waited on his fastball. Jordan kept us in the game. He used his defense and got a lot of easy outs. I felt like we were in great shape. We have a conditioning program every Tuesday and Thursday, and I thought that really helped us.”
HPA scored its only run in the third, when Cyrus Inglis swung at the second pitch he saw — a second straight fastball. The ball drifted high against the background of a beautiful blue sky, landing for a base hit in front of speedy center fielder Domonic Morris. Inglis was sacrificed to second and scored when Mike Nakahara drilled a first-pitch fastball down the left-field line.
Then Konawaena’s bats caught fire and produced seven runs in the fourth, chasing Sekiya after Gray had a run-scoring single to left to make it 2-1. The next four Wildcats reached to keep the line moving.
Evyn Yamaguchi had an RBI single, Shelton Grace singled, Miyahira-Young helped himself with a run-scoring single and Skye Suzuki added a two-run single.
Morris lofted a sacrifice fly to right field, and it was suddenly 8-1. The Wildcats completed the knockout the next inning when No. 3 hitter Ona Manzano, Kitaoka, Gray and Yamaguchi all singled. Gray blasted a two-run single to left, burning his former team again, and Yamaguchi ended it with a well-placed golf shot that fell in front of three defenders — center fielder Lii Purdy, shortstop Ellis and second baseman Inglis.
“It feels good to win, but I’ve got a lot of good friends and the coaches there that have been good to me. It’s a great win, but I’ve got nothing but respect for (HPA),” said Gray, gracious in victory.
HPA will graduate one key senior in first baseman Kama DeSilva, who went 0-for-1 with a walk.
Every Wildcat scored except for Morris, the leadoff hitter. Gray finished 2-for-2 with three RBIs, Yamaguchi went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Miyahira-Young was 2-for-2 with an RBI to fuel Konawaena’s offense, which will be well rested. The team is staying at Uncle Billy’s instead of taking a two-hour drive home.
“I think HPA, Kamehameha and us are all even,” Distel said. “Our team is very businesslike in the field and we give our kids a lot of responsibilities. They’re young and still make mistakes, but they play with a business-as-usual mentality, and that wins us a lot of games.”
HPA 000 10 — 1 4 0
Konawaena 010 73 — 11 11 0
c Kamehameha 7, Kohala 2: Junior right-handers Alika Young and Jordan Hirae combined on a two-hitter, and the Warriors bunched their six base hits and capitalized on six walks, earning a berth to the state tournament and saving ace pitcher Kupono Decker for Kona.
“Kohala gave us all we could handle,” Kamehameha coach Andy Correa said. “They came out swinging the bats. They were really aggressive in the strike zone. But Alika pitched well, and our defense made all the plays. Anytime you get into the playoffs, you’re going to be playing your best ball. Jordan did a great job in relief, and our pitching did well.”
Young went five innings, and allowed two runs on two hits. He struck out two and walked two, getting scratched for runs on Casey Stevens’ RBI double in the fourth and Haruto Fuertes’ sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Hirae followed with two scoreless innings, striking out two and stranding a runner on third in the sixth — his only bit of trouble.
“A couple of times they came out hacking on the first pitch. That surprised me,” Young said. “It’s good to get the win, and it’s a lucky thing that Jordan came in and closed it out.”
Hirae and Chad Teshima each had two hits and an RBI, and Makoa Rosario was 1-for-3 with two RBIs for Kamehameha (10-4).
“We played as a team, and everybody was working hard,” Hirae said. “Kohala came out to play.”
Ricky Ching went the distance in the loss for Kohala (3-12). The junior right-hander hurt himself with six walks, which led to three runs. He struck out one.
Kohala 000 110 0 — 2 2 2
KS-Hawaii 211 003 x — 7 6 0