Saturday | July 23, 2016
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Tokunaga no ordinary freshman

Mykala Tokunaga was a pitching-and-hitting dual threat for Kamehameha-Hawaii, which handed the ball to the freshman right-hander to win big games and stuck her in the cleanup spot in the batting order to power the offense.

Despite a burden of responsibility on her shoulders, she consistently delivered, sparking the Warriors to their second straight Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II softball championship.

Tokunaga won all of her team’s crucial games in the circle and hit .500 with two homers and 25 RBIs in league play to help Kamehameha finish 17-3 overall (12-0 in the BIIF). In the circle, she was 9-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 71 innings. She allowed 71 hits, walked 35 and struck out 71.

Tokunaga’s only BIIF loss came against Hilo in the first round and didn’t count in the league standings.

For her efforts, she was named BIIF Division II Player of the Year in a vote by the league’s coaches, becoming the first freshman pitcher to grab the honor since Kamehameha’s Kiani Wong in 2009. Wong is a freshman on the University of Hawaii softball team.

“I’m surprised I got it because there are a lot of seniors,” Tokunaga said. “I had a lot of support from my teammates. A lot of hard work paid off, especially when Kiani came home and practiced with me. She’s an example for me, and we work off each other. My batting came around at the right time.”

Tokunaga goes to Kaha Wong’s hitting school. She credited him for refining her swing, Kamehameha coach Gary Ahu for pushing her and the team in the right direction, and her parents for their emotional support.

“They’re my No. 1 fans, and they help me with everything,” she said of parents Peggy and Mike Tokunaga, who runs S. Tokunaga Store. “Whenever Kiani’s home, we’re partners at the batting cage, and in the morning we’ll go and run and field balls. I go to the batting cage every week, and Coach Kaha helps me with my power swing, mostly with my hips and legs. That’s what we’re trying to work on more.”

Ahu knew he had something special in Tokunaga when he first saw her. She’s 5 feet, 8 inches tall and looks like she could fit in as a basketball forward or soccer goalie, positions that require precision and flexibility — two pitching assets when she stretches her body like a rubber band and whips the ball over the corners of the plate.

“She’s a natural athlete. She gives 100 percent every time she plays,” Ahu said. “She can hit, run, and with her pitching, I knew we’d be tough. When I first saw her, I knew she was the best pitcher on the island already.

“We’ve got her for the next three years. She can exceed what she did this year.”

Teammate Lehua McGuire, a senior outfielder, joined Tokunaga on the first team. Kamehameha senior first baseman Elizabeth Kia, senior shortstop Namele Naipo-Arsiga, senior outfielder Codi Kualii and junior utility player Gayla Ha-Cabebe made the second team.

“Lehua was the spark plug of our team. That’s why she was our first batter,” Ahu said. “All the girls from the second team played good defense and hit the ball. We scored a lot of runs from the No. 1 to 9 spot in the lineup. Everybody did their job.

“Kodi was our seventh batter, but she probably hit over .500 the whole season, more on fast bunts. Everybody hit over .400.”

Kohala first baseman Tiani Luga, Honokaa second baseman Kayla Kalauli, Konawaena third baseman Chrysa Dacalio, Honokaa shortstop Kaitlin Agustin, Honokaa catcher Kayla Requelman, Kohala outfielder Sheana Cazimero, Honokaa outfielder Allie Shiraki and Hawaii Prep utility hitter Camille Kiyota rounded out the first team.

The Warriors finished sixth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament on Maui, where Tokunaga flashed her hitting skills. She hit .455 (5-for-11) with three RBIs in three games.

“When you play at states, you have to play perfect. In the first game (an 8-7 loss to Kauai), we were nervous and made a couple of errors,” Ahu said. “We had a chance to win the game. The ball didn’t bounce our way.

“The books tell you how the season went. We beat all the Division II teams in the league. I’m proud of our girls. I never expected to win all the games in Division I (that counted in the BIIF standings). It was because of Mykala’s pitching. She was a big help.”

The Warriors will have a lot of holes to fill next season with the loss of six starting seniors. The other starters were designated hitter Janell Cameros and third baseman Jaylen Shiroma, who received honorable mention.

Surrounded by seniors, Kamehameha’s freshman pitcher stepped in, had a smooth transition and did her job. She’ll be the building block for a team that will look a lot different next year.

But as long as Tokunaga is in the pitching circle, Ahu knows that’s the best way to win games and BIIF championships. After all, an ace is the trump card in the deck. And Tokunaga was the best of all the league’s aces.

“We’ll be rebuilding next year,” he said. “But in softball, if you’ve got the pitching, you can work around it. If you have a pitcher who throws hard, you can get a 1-0 game. It all depends on the defense if they make no errors. I’m looking forward to next year.”

Since statewide classification in 2004, no one has ever been the BIIF Division II player of the year four years in a row. No team has won more than two consecutive league titles. Life is always easier when a team has an ace like Tokunaga, who looks forward to a bright future and more hard work.

“The season was great. The team went undefeated (in BIIF games), and all of our bats came around in the really important games, everyone from No. 1 to 9,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be the ace. I came into the team as a freshman and looked up to the seniors. I got to pitch a lot and got a lot of experience. It was great dealing with all those senior batters and Division I teams. It was great when we won against them because we’re Division II.

“We have to work way harder because of our six seniors leaving. The best part was traveling with the team and coming really close to them, and having the feeling that I’ll be with them the next three years.”