HONOLULU — Hilo doesn’t back down from challenges, whether it’s a four-run deficit with one out remaining or a first-round draw against Punahou, a seven-time state champion.
The Vikings rallied to topple Campbell 6-5 in a Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state baseball tournament play-in game last Wednesday, securing the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s second berth to the tournament.
Hilo (13-5) will now play Punahou (13-3), the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s No. 3 team, in the first round at 5 p.m. today at Les Murakami Stadium.
Two-time defending BIIF champion and No. 3 seed Waiakea (17-0) will play the Moanalua-Castle winner in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
In first-round Division II games Wednesday at Hans L’Orange Field on Oahu, it’s BIIF champion and No. 4 seed Kamehameha-Hawaii (12-5) vs. Kalaheo (9-3) at 10 a.m. and BIIF runner-up Konawaena (12-2) vs. Waipahu (12-0 ) at 7 p.m.
The Vikings played the Buffanblu, who won state titles from 2004 to ’10, in Castle’s preseason tournament and lost 7-2.
“We’re excited to play them,” Hilo coach Tony DeSa said. “We played them early in the year and felt like we could play with them. We want to play them again.
“We hung with them. It was 3-2 through four innings. We didn’t have any pitchers left. This time we’ll have our pitchers ready to go. The score was no indication what the game was going like in the first four innings.”
The Vikings have not only faced tough competition in the BIIF, losing three times to Waiakea left-hander Quintin Torres-Costa, but also other top pitchers in the preseason.
They faced Kapolei right-hander Trey Kamachi-Allen, who signed with Arizona State.
DeSa shot down speculation that the 6-foot-3 right-hander throws a 95-mph fastball.
Hilo had three hits off him in a 4-0 loss in a preseason tourney on Maui. Despite a pro prospect like Kamachi-Allen, the Hurricanes didn’t reach states.
“He throws in the high 80s. He’s the hardest thrower in the state,” DeSa said. “When we were there on Maui, there were a whole bunch of scouts.
“That gives us a lot of confidence that we’ve faced the best pitching in the state. It makes us a lot more prepared going against somebody like Punahou or Kailua (the top seed).”
Junior right-hander Kian Kurokawa is expected to get the start for Hilo.
He’s sporting a 4-2 record with an ERA in the 2.00 neighborhood.
“He has the ability to throw strikes and not hurt himself with walks,” DeSa said. “Our team just believes we can play with anybody no matter who it is on the mound, whether it’s Kian through the next guy.
“The kids have big-game experience, and just competing in the preseason we can play with Punahou, and we played with Kapolei and beat Pac-Five on Maui. We’ve played a lot of preseason games against good teams.”
The Vikings, who are making their fourth straight trip to states, are also playing with broken hearts.
Second baseman Micah Kaaukai’s father, Paul, died on Saturday.
“We extend our well wishes to Micah’s family,” DeSa said. “Paul was one of our biggest supporters. As expected, Micah is having a hard time. But his dad would have wanted him to play. He’ll honor his dad and try to play.”
The return to Les Murakami Stadium, the University of Hawaii’s home field, is also a chance for Hilo junior shortstop Chayce Kaaua to grow more comfortable at his future home.
As a sophomore, he gave a verbal commitment to play baseball for the Rainbows.
Torres-Costa already signed with Hawaii.
His teammates, junior catcher Kean Wong and sophomore pitcher Kodi Medeiros, are also verbal commits.
“Chayce shows up for big games. He’s a big-game hitter,” DeSa said. “If runners are in scoring position ... he’s one of the guys who will come through. He’ll get a look in his eyes and smile, like, ‘Don’t worry, coach, I got you.’ Against Campbell, he smiled and crushed a double down the left-field line.
“When he goes to UH, they can put him anywhere on the field. As a freshman he caught. He played center field last year and now he’s at shortstop. He’s just real athletic. He hit .333 during the season, but if you only count games against Waiakea he hit .600. He shows up for big games.”
Senior catcher Koa Matson has been the driving force for the Vikings.
He batted over .500 and knocked in 19 runs.
“When it’s game time, he brings a middle linebacker’s mentality,” DeSa said. “And then everybody else just goes. We haven’t seen our best yet. We haven’t had all our guys hot at the same time. Hopefully we can get them all hot and be in for a good tourney.”