Kupuna softball: Kona Legends upset Hilo on topsy-turvy first day of tournament

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The Kona Legends celebrate their win.

There was, of course, the obligatory “you don’t look a day over 70” joke heard on the field, and considering the sheer number of games, it probably wasn’t the only one.

A break in the weather came Wednesday just in time for the Hawaii Kupuna Softball tournament to start without a hitch, though there was an upset alert at Walter Victor complex.

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It wasn’t so much that the Kona Legends started to act their age. More so, they finally lived up to their nickname, rallying to end a season’s worth of futility against the ever-powerful Hilo Pomaikai with a 11-7 victory.

“It’s hard to beat a team five games in row,” Kona’s David Fukumoto said. “You know what I’m saying, we were due.”

While Hilo, the two-time island champ, was the top seed in Division I, Kona had a pedestrian season and was seeded sixth, though coach Stan Grahovac pointed out the Legends were mostly short-handed until now because of travel and injuries. Players would get hurt, heal and hurt again, he said, and in some sense everyone in the 60-and-over league is playing with aches and pains coming off a season that started in late January.

“More ibuprofen,” Grahovac said of one of the keys to success. “I tell the guys you have to find the cocktail that works.

“I’m Aleve and ibuprofen, any anti-inflammatory that works. Before and after. It used to be only before, but not now.”

Players should probably have whatever Fukumoto was having.

He drove in three runs, hitting a two-run double in the first and a run-tying single in the fifth ahead of Jeff Fyffe’s bloop two-run hit as Kona scored five times — the maximum allowed in an inning — to go ahead 9-7.

Fukumoto also earned the victory, pitching all six innings. His worst inning came in the second, when he walked two batters and yielded Steve Markham’s two-run triple to deep left field.

No matter the age group, it seems the keys for a pitcher are to throw strikes and keep hitters off-balance.

“You aim at the plate, you got to hit the plate,” Fukumoto said. “I just move up and down between the front and the back (of the pitching circle) and try to keep them off-balance.”

Mike Cabral collected three hits for Kona and Tommy Mattos joined Fukumoto at two.

Peter Ngirngotel — who looked like a younger man as he was kept busy roaming left-center field defensively — Tommy Dela Cruz and Clyde Bailado each had two hits for Hilo, which rebounded later the day to defeat the Kona Gold 17-10, reaching Thursday’s title game against the Honomu Rockets.

“We played relaxed,” Fukumoto said, “we have nothing to lose. “

It wasn’t pau hana time for the Legends yet. They lost to Kona Gold 18-9 in the last game of day, leaving all six teams at 1-1 heading into the final day of the tournament.

The Legends know they will be in the Division C at the state tournament — which is Aug. 6-8 in Kailua-Kona — while Hilo, Kona Gold and Pueo are fighting for two spots in Division A, with the other dropping to B.

The Legends-Pomaikai game wasn’t lacking in intensity, especially when Ngirngotel hit the dirt after touching third base and was awarded home plate on an interference call.

“Our team is pretty mellow,” Grahovac said, “and occasionally you need someone to light a fire. So that, unfortunately or fortunately, falls on me. I yell as needed.”

“But we’re all good guys, that’s the thing about our team,” said Grahovac, one of two members of the Legends who lives in Hilo.

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No matter where they came from, they gathered at Walter Victor because some ideals never get old.

“Play and have fun,” said the Legends’ Mel Ako, “but we came here to win.”

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