HILO — Waiakea couldn’t solve the mystery of Leilehua pitcher Taezha Cordero’s drop-curve, a pitch no one in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation really throws, making each at-bat a swing-and-miss adventure.
Behind Cordero’s collection of slow-but-moving pitches, the Mules defeated Waiakea 7-2 in a state softball play-in game Tuesday at the Warriors field, where a gusty wind served as an extra defender, holding flyballs in the air like a floating kite.
Hilo (13-0) will be the league’s lone entry in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament, which will be held May 6 to 9 on Oahu.
The season is over for Waiakea (9-6), which loses two senior starters in outfielders Cheylee Octavio and Kaelee Carvalho.
In something of a fitting senior tribute, they did the most damage at the plate. Carvalho clocked a solo homer in the fourth, and batted 2 for 3 with an RBI. Octavio batted 2 for 3 and scored on Taylor Nishimura’s sacrifice fly in the third inning.
That was pretty much it as far as poking a stick at Cordero, who weaved an efficient six-hitter with zero walks and six strikeouts. Her drop-curve, which dives away from a right-handed hitter, was responsible for most of the punchouts. She’s got another curveball reserved for lefty hitters that goes in the opposite direction.
“She’s done an excellent job for us all season,” Leilehua coach Stacy Araki said. “She’s our go-to person. In Honolulu, we have some pitchers who are faster. She’s not the fastest, but she’s the best at junk balls. We can hold down the top teams when she hits her spots.”
The Mules (8-9), the Oahu Interscholastic Association’s No. 6 team, are no ordinary below .500 team. They play in the competitive OIA Red West meat-grinder, which includes powerhouses Mililani, Campbell, Waianae and Kapolei.
Cordero throws harder than Waiakea freshman ace Alyssa Hara, who took the complete game loss, but much slower than Hilo senior Aliesa Kaneshiro and Kamehameha sophomore Mykala Tokunaga.
However, the Mules senior had spotless control on a windy day. She capitalized with pitches on the corner or a few inches off the plate and down low for called strikes.
Meanwhile, Hara got a few pitches up and got hurt in the fourth when Leilehua’s hitters leveled their swings and whacked line drives all over the outfield. The Mules had five hits in the four-run inning. Cordero smoked a triple to right-center field to start the rally.
Hara gave up seven runs, two unearned, on 11 hits and two walks, and whiffed one. She took the loss, but gained big-time experience and appreciation for throwing efficient strikes, those low and on the corners like Cordero.
“I have to work on my speed, hit my spots more and keep better composure,” Hara said. “The one thing I like is we’re young. We’ll definitely come back stronger next season.”
Waiakea freshman shortstop Skylar Thomas, who went 0 for 3, noted the difference in velocity between Kaneshiro and Cordero threw a monkey wretch into the lineup’s timing at the dish.
“Going against Aliesa (in the BIIF championships), we had a hard time with the difference in speeds,” she said. “Cordero’s drop-curve was really slow. But next year will be a big difference because we’ll be more experienced.”
Both teams had one error. Leilehua’s miscue was harmless while Waiakea’s was costly, an outfield fielding error in the third that led to two unearned runs.
The biggest difference in the game — outside of Cordero and her slick drop-curve — was adjustments at the plate. The Warriors couldn’t hit to the opposite field or take Cordero up the middle. The Mules changed their swing arc, and produced lethal line drives in the critical fourth inning.
“They did what they had to do,” Waiakea coach Bo Saiki said of the Mules. “They put the ball in play. They never went for the long ball, but had nice base hits.
“It was a fine close to the season for us. The majority of our team is freshmen and sophomores. For the next two years, we’ll be OK.”
Leilehua 002 410 0 — 7 11 1
Waiakea 001 100 0 — 2 6 1