KAILUA-KONA — Rain is rarely a good thing when it comes to sports, but the Hilo softball team used a late rain delay and wet conditions to its advantage Saturday.
After a sunny start to the morning, a brief rain shower resulted in control problems for the Kealakehe pitching staff. The Vikings took advantage of the situation, pushing five runs across the plate in the fifth inning to take Game 1 in a BIIF Division I semifinal series at Kealakehe 6-1.
“We practiced in the rain on Friday because we knew we may face the same conditions today,” Hilo head coach Amber Waracka said. “The rain never stops falling in Hilo and we knew we may have to push through it.”
Rain has wreaked havoc on the early BIIF softball playoffs, causing every opening game of the semifinals on Thursday and Friday to be postponed, as well as Waiakea-Keaau for the second time on Saturday.
With most of the games to this point scheduled in Hilo, eastside teams such as Vikings looked forward stepping onto the field and perhaps even seeing a little sunshine on Saturday as they made the trip to Kona.
They got a brief taste of blue skies through nearly four innings of play, but late in the bottom of the fourth, dark clouds rolled in and a sudden downpour mixed with high winds forced a roughly 15-minute rain delay.
Play started as the winds calmed, but the rain continued to fall at a steady pace.
As Kealakehe starting pitcher Telsea Taketa began her warm-ups in the top of the fifth inning, it was immediately clear she was having trouble gripping the ball as several pitches went into the dirt shortly after leaving her hand.
The situation did not get any better for the Waverider sophomore when the inning started.
After showing stellar command through the first four innings of play, with only one walk, Taketa hit the first two batters she saw, with the ball bouncing up to the hitter each time. She then walked the next batter to load the bases before getting a strikeout.
However, with only one out, a wild pitch allowed Hilo’s Lydia Krail to score from third and another walk loaded the bases again.
With Taketa clearly struggling to find her grip, Kealakehe head coach Loni Mercado elected to make a pitching change, bringing in Mia Joaquin.
Joaquin also struggled but found the strike zone on occasion, though the result was not what she was hoping for. The first batter she faced, Robi Demotta, singled on a grounder down the third base line, scoring Alexus Wilson and Angelina Wright. Joaquin walked the next batter and a wild pitch allowed Makana Huddleston to cross the plate. Cassidy Kaaua then singled to left, allowing DeMotta to score the fifth run of the inning.
“We didn’t adjust and we need to learn to do that,” Mercado said. “It doesn’t rain in Kona and I understand that, but they didn’t watch the news to know that it was going to rain today. You have to take it as it comes. We did the best we could do in the situation.”
Hilo’s Chalisse Kela fared much better with the rain. After getting two outs before the rain delay, she was the first to take the circle with the rain coming down and she escaped any damage with a strikeout.
Kela never once showed signs that the rain was affecting her. In the bottom of the fifth, with a light sprinkle still around, she put the Waveriders down in order.
“Growing up in Hilo it is always raining, and every time it did my dad would make me pitch so I would get used to it,” Kela said. “Repetition is key and I felt like everything came together today.”
Kela threw all seven innings in a dominating, two-hit performance. She allowed only one earned run, which came in the final inning when Kealakehe’s Kenye Palik singled to center, moved around to third, and scored on a groundout by Lucky Isisaki. Kela struck out six and walked three.
“Chalisse is a senior and she has gotten better every year,” Waracka said. “She did her best and held it together for the team.”
Taketa took the loss, allowing five runs, four earned over 4 1/3 innings. She allowed two hits, walked three and struck out four. Joaquin settled down after the fifth, striking out five in only 2 2/3 innings. She walked one and allowed one run off two hits.
Hilo will look to clinch the series on Monday, while Kealakehe will try to even the series to force a deciding Game 3 on Tuesday.
“We need to do some soul searching,” Mercado said. “They need to get their mindset right because if it isn’t there really isn’t much we can do.”