There was dancing. There was singing. And for an encore, Punahou captured its first state championship in softball with a 2-0 win against Kamehameha Friday night at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Of a possible 31 state tournaments (both genders), softball became the Buffanblu's 28th different sports team to claim a state crown, leaving bowling (boy and girls) and cheerleading left to close the book. This was Punahou's 15th tournament appearance (counting a play-in game loss in 1987) and third title game. The Buffanblu were runners-up in 1999 and 2010.
"It's so nice to win it," senior catcher Kylie Popovich said. "All the teams that played before this, it's just so nice to finally bring it home."
The senior battery of pitcher Jaci Young and Popovich deftly held Kamehameha to two hits. Young struck out nine and walked two. At one juncture, she retired nine batters in a row. She batted out of two major threats. She struck out cleanup hitter Kaya Naiwi for the third out with the bases loaded and she struck out Rachel Dumlao to end the game with runners at first and second.
"Whew," Popovich said of escaping the bases-loaded jam. "It was stressful, but we got out of it."
Meanwhile, Young's counterpart, sophomore Kamalani Dung, was no slouch from the circle either. She began the game by striking out the first four batters and finished with 12. But Punahou's two-run third inning was the difference.
Heaven Wong led off with a single before Sarah Sumida struck out. On a one-strike count to Thalen Masada, a wild pitch that took strange caroms allowed Wong to move all the way to third. Masada then beat out a grounder to shortstop for an RBI single.
Kylie Popovich's single to second moved Masada to second. They executed a double steal before Nicole Nishizawa walked to load the bases to set up Va'a's RBI flare single to center. Dung struck out Young to end the inning.
Punahou coach Bob Makahilahila said the wild pitch might have unsettled Dung for the rest of the inning.
"Kama is a great pitcher," he said. "She's kind of how J (Jaci) was two years ago, when she was a sophomore. As she gets more experience, the whole atmosphere will fade away and she'll become like a Jaci. J has been at the state tournament four years now, so for her to be able to do this now, she paid her dues first and I think that's why she was more, for lack of a better word, calm and settled."
Kamehameha coach Aloha Yamaguchi said she wasn't sure if the wild pitch was that much of a factor.
"They did a good job of capitalizing in that inning," Yamaguchi said of the Buffanblu.
It could've been worse, as the Buffanblu managed seven hits and three walks off Dung. But she fought out of jams, stranding eight runners, five in scoring position.
It was special in many aspects for Punahou.
Makahilahila said no one wanted to stand out.
"It's hard to understand it, but nobody - even our top players, Jaci (Young) and Vanessa (Va'a) - they never put themselves above the rest of the team," Makahilahila said. "Every time we tried to put them up to be leaders, they'd be leaders, but they'd fall back in within the team. They made sure everybody believed it was a team thing."
The Buffanblu were picture of happiness. And that was before the game. They did their pre-game dance ritual.
"Just before the game, it gets off the tension," Makahilahila said. "Have fun. We really preach fun. We told them practice is the hard part; games are supposed to be fun. They're always smiling. We really believe in that concept."
Then the team was told it had to sing the national anthem. So Va'a, who said her only singing experience was with her church, sang it beautifully with her senior teammates flanking her for support. (Kamehameha's team sang Hawaii Ponoi.)
"We were just told the seniors had to sing," Young said. "We just kind of freaked out at the beginning of the game, but lucky thing V's an amazing singer, so she basically sang it for us."
Added Va'a: "Coach told me,'You're going to sing the national anthem,' and I said, 'What?' But I just had to go for broke so I did."
So if singing on a moment's notice wasn't going to faze the Buffanblu, neither was a bases-loaded jam.
Kamehaemha posed its biggest threat in the sixth inning. With one out, Rachel Dumlao reached when her grounder when through third baseman Heaven Wong legs. Dumlao stole second and went to third when Maelia Zablan reached on a fielder's choice grounder to third. The Buffanblu tried to get the lead runner, in the rundown, second baseman Sarah Sumida's throw was wild, allowing Zablan to take second. With runners in scoring position, Young got Dung to pop out to second. After pinch hitter Katelyn Mahelona walked to load the bases, Young struck out the dangerous Naiwi, who was 4 for 6 with four RBI in her previous two games, to end the threat.
"Most teams make two errors, they lose the game," Makahilahila said. "This team, it doesn't faze them. It just makes them bear down and they're going to make plays. J, she geared down, got the pop out and got the strikeout. That's what having a senior pitcher-catcher combination does. They know how to settle all the young kids."
"At that point, I just told myself, 'My team's behind me.'" Young said. "They've been supporting me the whole time and I just had to let them do their thing. It's fortunate because Kama's (Dung) a great hitter and Kylie called a great pitch. It was fortunate that it turned out that way."
Young went 4-0 in the tournament with an earned run average (per seven innings) of 0.27. She allowed nine hits and struck out 43 and walked seven.
Dung had strong tournament, too. She was 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA, striking out 37 in 20 innings.
Kamehameha fell to 8-4 in title games, but it's still the second-winningest title team in the state behind Kailua (10 titles).
Punahou finished the season 19-3 and Kamehameha 16-3. They split the regular season series.
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