With just a single senior on his roster, Kohala head coach Terrence Alcoran is taking every game as a learning experience.
The Cowgirls learned the lesson of perseverance Thursday, storming back from a large early deficit to shock Hawaii Preparatory Academy 15-8 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation softball season opener in Waimea.
“This was the hardest I have ever worked coaching a game,” Alcoran said with a smile after the win. “We got lucky with this one. All the hits came at the perfect time.”
Junior pitcher Ashlyn Vanzandt recorded three strikeouts in the win for Kohala (1-0). Senior Kawena Lim-Samura suffered the loss for HPA (0-1).
Despite the heartbreaking loss, HPA head coach Betsy Tranquilli was upbeat about her team’s effort.
“We are pretty inexperienced, so to take a lead into the seventh inning was a way better than we expected coming out of the gate,” Tranquilli said. “It is tough to lose games like that but I’m walking out of here very optimistic about the rest of the season.”
The teams battled to a 1-1 tie early on, but as the rain began to fall on HPA’s softball field, Ka Makani’s bats caught fire. HPA outscored Kohala 7-1 in a three-inning stretch behind hits from Alexa Meyer (3-of-4), Ranko Ono (1-4) and Taimani Kamaka (2-4)
Lim-Samura was on fire from the mound during the early stretch for Ka Makani, and almost flawlessly executed the game plan set forth by Tranquilli.
“What we have been working on with Kawena was getting first pitch strikes,” Tranquilli said. “We have played Kohala in the past and I have been coaching against (Alcoran) for years. I know he likes to take first-pitch strikes.”
Lim-Samura had 30 first-pitch strikes against Kohala, often forcing them to battle back in the count.
Kohala entered the sixth inning down 8-2, and broke into a “let’s get a rally, we want a rally” chant.
That is exactly what the Cowgirls pulled off.
Kyrah Lee Sol kicked off the streak with a lead off double, and was joined on the bases by Denae Rivera, who patiently took a walk from Lim-Samura. Sol scored on a wild pitch moments later, and then a RBI single by Vanzandt kept the rally going. Sophomore slugger Ryah Manning closed out the inning with a two-RBI single that eluded HPA’s infielders.
The Cowgirls finished the stanza with five runs, pulling within a single run entering the final inning.
Kohala rode the momentum into the seventh, receiving consecutive hits from Setsuko Kimura and Jurnee Keawe. Coupled with multiple HPA errors, the Cowgirls scored eight runs to solidify the opening day victory.
“Baseball is a funny game. Anything can happen in one inning,” Alcoran said. “I think they may have had the jitters early on, but they battled through it.”
HPA took a lot away from the loss, and will gather their emotions before hosting Hilo on Saturday.
“Our expectations are much higher after an effort like this,” Tranquilli said. “It looked like a wild-card year coming in, but taking a lead into the seventh inning against a team like Kohala sets the bar high for us.”
Kohala goes on the road to visit Keaau same day in what will be the first regular season road game for many of Alcoran’s athletes.
“This is not going to be an easy season for us,” Alcoran said. “We are very green with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. I think we will do decent. If we take it all, I would be surprised, but battling back in a game like this was a championship effort.”