KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe loves to play close games. After a nail-biter earlier this season, Waverider coach Loni Mercado emphasized how much she loved the back-and-forth thrillers, which can be very rare in BIIF play.
If a close game is what Mercado was looking for against west-side rival Konawaena on Friday, then she got exactly what she wanted as the Waveriders edged out the visiting Wildcats 7-6 in a nine-inning game that matched small ball against long ball.
“The girls showed character and came through in the clutch,” Mercado said after Kealakehe won its Senior Night game in walk-off fashion. “It’s crazy, I didn’t even realize we were in the ninth inning. Kona has a young team and they brought it, but we were able to fight to the finish.”
The Waveriders (9-3) entered the bottom of the ninth inning in a 6-6 tie with the Wildcats (10-4) after overcoming a two-run deficit in the eighth.
Kealakehe played two seniors — Jami Tan, who played a solid game at third base and scored the tying run in the eighth inning, and Dez Garcia, who scored the game-winning run.
Garcia led off the bottom of the ninth by beating out a bunt for a single, her fourth hit of the game. She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Kenye Palik and followed that up by stealing third, sliding around a tag by the Konawaena third baseman after the throw beat her to the base.
Telsea Taketa, who threw all nine innings before helping pick up the victory, laid down a perfect bunt, allowing Garcia to score from third standing up.
“One of my seniors scored the winning run. What a way for her to close out the regular season,” Mercado said. “There was no better person I would have rather had in that situation, but I say that about all my girls. But Dez, that was amazing, and as far as stealing bases, she is the girl you want.”
Bunts, stolen bases, moving girls around base-to-base. That was Kealakehe’s game plan against Konawaena, and it worked. It was the opposite for the Wildcats, who scored their six runs off a pair of two-run home runs and a two-run double.
“They are very fortunate to have that power, and I’m not saying we don’t have that, but I have girls who are willing to create chaos through small ball.” Mercado said. “I tell the girls all the time to go out there and cause some trouble.”
Konawaena used its power to take an early 2-0 lead in the first inning when Erin Kaimuola-Bates, hitting second in the lineup, blasted a pitch over the center field fence after Nalani Wall reached on a walk.
The Waveriders took the lead in the third inning by pushing three runs across the plate. Zay Sanchez, who ended the night a perfect 2-for-2 with two walks, led off the inning with a ground rule double down the third base line. Tan knocked her in with a single to center and later scored on a double into the left-center gap off the bat of Lisan Mudong. Palik followed with a single into the right-center gap to score Mudong.
Kealakehe added to its lead in the following inning off a pair of infield hits by Nanea Kaluau and Sanchez, and an error by the Wildcats.
Now up by two, the Waveriders maintained the lead until the top of the sixth when another home run, this time off the bat of Ana Medeiros, tied the game.
Neither team scored in the seventh, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the eighth, Konawaena’s Kaimana Joy Manzano doubled to center to put her team up by two.
The Waveriders came back in the bottom of the frame when Malia Cosare walked to lead off the inning and Kaluau followed with a double to center. Cosare scored on a wild pitch and Kaluau crossed the plate when Tan grounded out to short, setting up a dramatic final inning.
Taketa made only three mistakes in the circle, finishing the game with six strikeouts and two walks, while forcing the Wildcats to keep the ball on the ground for the majority of the game.
“Take away those oopsie pitches and she had a great game,” Mercado said. “She has been doing a great job of minimizing her walks and letting her defense work for her.”
Kaimuola-Bates took the loss for Konawaena. She entered the game in the fourth inning with the Wildcats down 3-2. She allowed four runs off seven hits, striking out four and walking three. Andi Uemura started the game for Konawaena. She pitched three innings and allowed three runs off two hits. Uemura struck out two and walked one.