Little League softball: Honolulu pitcher baffles Gold Coast with no-hitter in state opener

  • MATT GERHART/Tribune-Herald Gold Coast's Jenna Sniffen hits a ground ball to shortstop Friday off pitcher Jenna Sniffen during Honolulu's 4-0 victory at the state Little League majors tournament in Hilo.
  • MATT GERHART/Tribune-Herald Honolulu's Jenna Sniffen fired an 11-strikeout no-hitter Friday in a 4-0 victory against Gold Coast at the state Little League majors tournament in Hilo.

Standing in the circle at UH-Hilo softball field, Honolulu 13-year-old Jenna Sniffen already looked the part.

Gripping it and ripping it with a purposeful, business-like approach Friday, Sniffen fired pitch after pitch by Gold Coast hitters, only smiling afterward when asked if she had taken time to notice she was crafting a no-hitter.

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She also cracked a smile when asked about tracking her perfect game.

“A little bit,” said Sniffen, who has reason to aim even higher Saturday.

Perfection went out the window with a two-out walk in the fifth inning, but Sniffen was otherwise flawless during an 11-strikeout, no-hit masterpiece as Honolulu made a positive first foray at the state Little League Majors tournament with a 4-0 victory to open the best-of-three series.

“She’s one of a kind,” said Honolulu coach Daniel Ho, who is responsible for putting the team together to challenge West Hawaii’s Gold Coast, which previously received a bye, and sometimes two, all the way to a regional on the mainland.

“I had a group of girls who showed interest and wanted to play,” Ho said. “On Oahu, (Little League softball) is nonexistent. They asked me if I would put something together.”

Gold Coast, which beat Hilo to win the district title last week, not only faced resistance at the state level for the first time, but a pint-sized wrecking ball in the form of Sniffen’s heater, which Ho estimated touched if not surpassed 60 MPH at times.

“I just use my legs and a lot of practicing my game,” said Sniffen, who is set to enter the eighth-grade at Maryknoll School after pitching the Spartans to the ILH intermediate title last season.

This was her first no-hitter since … last weekend, she said.

Game 2 is 11 a.m. Saturday, when Gold Coast will try to catch up to her fastball again.

“I just try to get outs for my defense or get us some ground balls, some quick outs,” Sniffen said.

Gold Coast’s Malie Espejo (3 2/3 innings) and Kalia Marquez (2 1/3) pitched well, holding Honolulu to only three hits. But it was clear early on that offense was going to be hard to come with Sniffen standing just 40 feet from the batter’s box.

Savannah Kupukaa bid for a hit in the third with a soft liner to shallow right field, but Natalie Ching was well-positioned to record the out. When hitters started to show signs of making consistent contact, albeit late, Sniffen mixed in a changeup, which almost didn’t seem fair.

“We were just trying to make sure they were confident enough, more than anything else,” Gold Coast manager Nino Kaai said. “Their confidence was very good. You have to keep your eye on the ball and your bat has to be fast.”

A pair of walks and an error led to two Honolulu runs in the first inning, but Espejo allowed only a hit to Taryn Ho before leaving to play in the field after feeling some discomfort. Ho manufactured a run, stealing two bases and scoring on a wild pitch. Kai Pajarillo tripled but was stranded by Marquez.

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Espejo struck out five.

“We did not hit the ball,” Daniel Ho said. “This is the first game we’ve ever played as a team. I think there were some nerves.”

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