Maryknoll ends Punahou's season in softball slugfest

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Freshman shortstop Sheyzhelle Iokia went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs as No. 3 Maryknoll outlasted No. 5 Punahou 8-5 to win the ILH double-elimination softball tournament on an overcast afternoon at Sand Island State Recreation Area.

Senior Jenna Sniffen moved from third base to the pitcher's circle in the seventh inning to earn a save. The All-State infielder looked like an All-State pitcher, which she was two years ago when Maryknoll won the state championship.

"I felt ready. I did it for my team. I'm just excited to get back on the mound," Sniffen said. "I was just trying to get ground balls for my team. I'm not trying to be perfect, just trying to be precise. I'm proud of my teammates for stepping up. A good team win. It's so exciting to be back in the state tournament. We weren't there last year, but that kind of lit a fire in our returnees."

Kasi Cruz started for Maryknoll (12-5) and went six innings, allowing four earned runs on seven hits. She did not strike out a batter and walked four, but was effective enough. The junior also connected for a crucial three-run triple in the fourth inning.

"We practice it a lot. The last game, (Punahou ace Paige Brunn) kept throwing me outside so I really tried to focus on that during practice and trying not to pop it up. Just driving it," said Cruz, who switched to third base when Sniffen pitched the last inning. "Going to states is a relief and joy because I feel like our team worked super hard this season. At practice, we're always pushing each other."

The game was also a win-or-go-home situation for both teams. Kamehameha had already secured one state berth by winning the regular season, leaving the second berth up for grabs between two of the top five teams in the state.

"To begin with, hats off to Punahou. They battled to the very end. It's sorrowful to say that someone couldn't make it to states because of (the game)," Spartans coach John Uekawa said. "We knew who we were going to start. We knew who was going to finish with. It was just a matter of getting a lead and holding on to it."

When the tourney began on April 20, Brunn was one strike away from a no-hitter against Maryknoll when Iokia launched a clutch solo homer to tie the game, and the Spartans eventually won in 11 innings, 2-1.

Thursday was the kind of day when anything in the air to left or center field got held up, and any line drive with power to right carried.

"On the right (field) side of the field, the wind is always pushing (out), and in center and left, it's always pushing in," Cruz said.

Brunn and Cruz appeared to be en route to a classic pitchers' duel until the visiting Buffanblu took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning. Kahiau Aina walked with one out and Lexi Hinahara followed with a two-run, line-drive homer over the center field fence.

In the bottom of the third, Iokia led off with a single, advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Amber Rayray and scored on a throwing error by Punahou shortstop Taryn Ho on Briana Sarae's ground ball.

In the bottom of the fourth, Maryknoll scored five times to take the lead. Brunn plunked Rayray to lead off the inning and Sarae followed with a single. After a sacrifice bunt by Dylan Neves, Ciana Kamisato lined out to first base. Sniffen was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Reyni Hiraoka singled to left, scoring Rayray.

Cruz then drilled a line drive to the opposite field, where right fielder Sydney Capello took a step in, but the ball carried over her head and bounced off the outfield fence. Sarae, Sniffen and Hiraoka raced home on Cruz's triple. Maryknoll led 5-2.

In the fifth frame, Iokia led off with a line-drive opposite-field homer to right, stretching the Spartans' margin to four runs.

Punahou answered with three runs in the top of the sixth. Shayla Yamashita led off and reached base on an error by Maryknoll's first baseman, Sarae. Capello walked and Li'i Brown singled to load the bases. Austen Kinney's single scored Yamashita, and a sacrifice fly by Kealoha Cox brought Capello home.

After Ho walked to load the bases, Aina singled to right, plating Brown to bring Punahou within 6-5.

Maryknoll then tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth against Punahou's second hurler, Tasi Taufahema. Cruz and Palehua Silva walked, and Iokia belted a two-run double to left, giving Maryknoll an 8-5 lead.

Punahou's season is over at 12-6.

"I'm all for being fair and partial to how many teams represent each league, but I don't think it should be at the expense of a team that could actually have a chance to win the state championship," Buffanblu coach Dave Eldredge said. "That's what these girls are suffering right now. We played head to head with these teams, Maryknoll and Kamehameha, we're break even in our records with them, and one of us doesn't get to go. If having 16 teams (at states) helps, I'm for it."