Leiloa Bustamante never thought she would play college softball, but she’s found a comfort zone at Everett Community College, where she’s absolutely raking.
The 2020 Kamehameha graduate is hitting .488, with a .553 on-base percentage and a whopping .805 slugging clip. Anything close to a 1.000 OPS is considered top shelf, but her 1.358 OPS is beyond that metric.
The former catcher at Kamehameha is starting in right field and also has three homers and 16 RBIs and five steals for the Trojans (15-3), who play a doubleheader against Skagit Valley on Saturday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the postseason has been canceled.
Everett takes Covid tests every two weeks, and no one has tested positive at the school located at Everett, Was., a suburb where the enrollment is a little under 20,000, a small-town feel that suits the psychology and criminal justice major.
It’s no surprise that Bustamante is hitting the ball so well. She’s related to two of the BIIF’s hitting greats, Safea Villaruz-Mauai, known for his joyful personality and hitting power, and Kiarra and Dioni Lincoln, the sisters regarded for their athleticism and hard work ethic.
She is the youngest of Juan Bustamante and Rena Camino’s four children. There’s Kapela (Safea’s dad), Kekoa, and Kauilani. Because Leiloa and Safea are the same age, they were raised as sister and brother, instead of aunt and nephew. But Leiloa’s life took a tragic turn the she was 10 years old. Her dad died on March 29, 2012 of a sudden massive heart attack.
“My uncle and cousin tried to give him CPR, but he was already gone,” Leiloa said. “It was really hard at 10. I couldn’t grasp it and couldn’t figure out why. He was young, 58. I would always think why and see my mom cry every night.
“My dad was always the backbone with our family so blended. I felt it was my responsibility to make something good come out of this bad situation. I would take what my dad taught me to carry on his legacy.”
Juan Bustamante gave his daughter the most precious gift a parent could give to his child: time. He was always there when she grew up and gave her lasting memories.
“Every time Safea and I were at a sporting event, he was there. He would make snacks for the whole team,” Leiloa said. “He would help coach or volunteer to have the reassurance that someone was there for us. He made it a point to be there.
“We’ve been through a lot and suffered a lot of hardships. But the one consistent thing in our family is making something good out of a bad situation. At the end of the day, there are always hardships. It’s about how you address each one with a positive mindset to make your own positives if it’s making someone smile.”
After graduation from Kamehameha, Leiloa enrolled at UH-Hilo online and was planning to go to a school in California. But here’s a recruiting story you won’t ever hear: Leiloa played with a relative of the Everett coaching staff in eighth grade when she was at Kamehameha-Kapalama.
Everett reached out to her in December, and she had a week in February to make a decision after Leiloa sent a YouTube highlight reel. Within a week, on Feb. 25, she was in her dorm room and adjusting to college softball life. The weather can go from cloudy in the 50-degree range to 80 degrees and sunny the next day, so another adjustment.
She wants to get a job in the forensics field, like the show CSI. Again, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Her grandfather Cappy Camino was Hawaii’s first sheriff, her dad an adult corrections offer and her mom a social worker/case manager.
“I knew I wanted to give back to the community,” Leiloa said. “I love listening to people’s problems and giving advice and reassurance and helping them find a way to turn a bad situation into something good. I like helping people in general.”
As far as talent level, there are good pitchers in the Northwest Athletic Conference, including on the Trojans. Freshman left-hander Kaylie Hoskins was at Division II Cal State San Marcos but returned home to pitch for Everett due to the pandemic. She’s 7-2 with a 1.98 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings, ranked fourth in the conference in strikeouts.
Leiloa has already attracted the attention of Mississippi Valley State (Division I), Northwestern (Division I), Rhode Island (Division I), and Western New Mexico (Division II). For now, MVS and Western New Mexico are the front-runners.
There are three other Hawaii freshmen players on the roster, outfielder Cherysh Wong from Waialua, pitcher/infielder Kayla Tuaoa from Maui’s Baldwin, and infielder Meleana Turner from Castle.
For fun, they’ll hit in the cage before and after practice and take extra reps on the infield. There’s a basketball court nearby so they’ll walk over and shoot hoops. But the pandemic hits the Hawaii girls in the stomach.
“In the dorm, we’ll have Cup of Noodles,” Leiloa said. “Our college is shut down, and we don’t have a cafeteria like Safea has. We live in a good area, and there’s a Taco Bell and local Hawaiian BBQ place in Everett.
“We’ll eat food from back home, make Spam, eggs, and rice or Spam musubi sent from home in the common kitchen. There are loco mocos at the Hawaiian place.”
So Leiloa’s nature is to make something good out of a bad situation. Got a can of Spam and a Spam musubi makes you feel right at home. So no worries, mom, Leiloa is raking on the field and hitting the books, too, with a 3.6 GPA.