When Honokaa was BIIF baseball royalty

Editor’s note: While the sports world is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hawaii Today will look back every Tuesday at memorable sports moments on the Big Island.

Baseball is back — almost. Maybe.

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While fans of professional teams will hopefully see an MLB season this year, which was delayed from its original Opening Day in the spring to a July 23 return, fans of Big Island baseball teams will have to wait until next year.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring high school sports in Hawaii the same week baseball teams were getting back on the field. Most teams were only able to play one game before the shutdown began, killing what could have been a great baseball season.

The 2008 season was one that remains memorable to this day. It was the first season the BIIF was split into Division I and Division II, making way for one talented team to break a long playoff streak. The first BIIF Division II baseball title game featured the Konawaena Wildcats and the Honokaa Dragons, with the Dragons rallying to win 10-6.

“Honokaa first baseman Chris Mosch drifted into foul territory, shut his glove on a Duke Akiona popup and shut the door on Konawaena in a wild inaugural Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II championship game,” West Hawaii Today’s Daniel Brock wrote after the game on May 3, 2008.

“We did it. We’re happy,” said Honokaa senior Keala Freitas, referencing the fact that the Dragons had become the first non-eastside team to win a BIIF baseball championship since Hawaii Prep in 1978.

The title was also Honokaa’s first in baseball since 1974.

The Dragons were held hitless in 5 1/2 innings by Wildcat pitchers Kawika Karratti and Kyle Sugi. Honokaa came back from a 5-1 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning before scoring nine runs that inning to rally back. Nine Dragons had an RBI each in the game.

Honokaa’s Kahale Artuyo pitched 6 1/2 innings of relief to pick up the win.

“I just kept telling the boys, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,’” Honokaa coach Al Martin said. “When it came to the bottom of the sixth, they finally realized it.”

For the Division I title that year, Waiakea defeated Kamehameha, 12-10.

Honokaa entered the state tournament that year with a first-round bye and the No. 4 seed. It lost in the quarterfinals to Molokai, 13-3. Konawaena also played in the state tournament that year, losing a close game in the first round to Kalaheo, 9-8.

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BIIF baseball has been split into two division since the 2008 season, leveling the playing field for teams on the island and making way for more memorable games in the future.

“The Hawaii High School Athletic Association got it right — for once — when it mandated a two division format for baseball this season,” Brock wrote in a May 7, 2008, West Hawaii Today column. “It’s a move the HHSAA made in other sports to increase competition throughout the state, and it’s a move that’s paid off in spades on the diamond.”

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