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Maui and Baldwin are co-champions of D-I state baseball after Mother Nature rules

May 19—1/4

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Maui and Baldwin posed together with the championship banner after they were declared co-champions because the game was called because of rain.

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The teams shook hands after the game.

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Baldwin's Kade Fujioka got hit by a pitch in the top of the third inning against Maui on Saturday in the state Division I championship at Moanalua.

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Baldwin's Jayson Kahaleanu, left, is tagged out by Maui's Nariyuki Dumlao.

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In 65 years since the inception of the HHSAA state baseball tournament, an all-Maui Interscholastic League championship game had never occurred.

Now, thanks to a relentless Kona low weather system that battered Oahu all week, 2024 will be known as the first year co-champions were crowned.

MIL champion Maui (14-3) and league runner-up Baldwin (15-3) played into the top of the third inning on a soggy afternoon at Moanalua. Following the D-II state final, a heavy downpour in the area held up what had been a 12:45 p.m. start time. The D-I final officially began at 1:48 p.m., but umpires stopped the game at 2:53 p.m. as pitching became nearly impossible with soggy baseballs.

By 3:39 p.m., the game was called off "due to weather conditions and for the safety of players," the HHSAA's Natalie Iwamoto said. "We were happy to get the kids involved in the decision."

Prior to the start of the game, following the first rain delay, teams were asked by the HHSAA whether they would want to play despite the inclement weather, or simply have a co-championship. The players opted to play.

The game was tied at 2 by the time the next stoppage began. Rainfall didn't worsen, but didn't improve, either. Maui coach Chase Corniel took the decision in stride.

"We're just proud of the boys. I don't make the decision. I don't know what happens behind closed doors. I'm just here to focus on the boys and make sure we focus on our season," said Corniel, who guided the Sabers to the state title in 2017. "We'll focus on the positives and the two teams that played their hearts out. It just shows, our league is tough."

Baldwin coach Craig Okita felt for his seniors. Baldwin, which last won a state crown in 2018 (under Shane Dudoit), finished runner-up in 2022 and '23.

"The guys are feeling sick. Safety-wise, that's probably the best thing for our kids. I agree with the decision. It sucks. As you can see, from both sides, this is not the feeling you have after winning the state championship. I feel for our seniors because they've been close twice. This was our opportunity and we weren't able to do it again. Co-champs is still champs, but it's not the same. It still hurts," he said. "It would've been a fairy-tale ending to send them out (as champions). Maybe tomorrow, we'll change our outlook."

Okita also felt a bit regretful.

"I thought we could get the game in here today. I knew it would be like this. Gloomy and a little bit wet here and there, but after thinking about it, we should've taken it back to Maehara tonight," Okita said. "I thought we could get it done here. Unfortunately, we didn't. Here we are."

The logistics of changing the site to Wailuku overnight would have been nearly impossible. Playing later next week? The long-shot possibilities of moving the game to Maui were never seriously entertained, particularly after MIL officials rejected the idea on Friday after Baldwin knocked out top-seeded Kamehameha 3-2 and second-seeded Maui ousted Saint Louis 1-0.

Obstacles included:

>> Baldwin graduation on Sunday;

>> Maui graduation on Monday;

>> Events Tuesday through Thursday;

>> Difficulty in obtaining a permit to host a state final at Iron Maehara Stadium.

Despite the obstacles, coaches and players were in favor of playing the game on Saturday or later regardless of the challenges.

Officials from the MIL and the HHSAA were dead set on completing the tournament by Saturday.

The moment was surreal for seniors on both teams when the announcement was made.

"I feel like we could've played, but it wasn't on us. It was on the officials and the higher-ups," Baldwin outfielder Douglas Mortensen said. "We had long breaks, just sing it away, do whatever we can to distract ourselves, and lock in. Both teams were really good teams, both really good coaches; We both had an even chance of coming home with the state championship."

Playing a state final nearly a week later — Mortensen believes everyone on both teams would've shown up ready.

"I think everybody just wanted to play. Nobody wanted it to end like this," he said.

Maui pitcher Dawson Nuese was part of a group that never lacked energy. Standing, singing and dancing to music at Les Murakami Stadium during down time earlier in the week. Joking all the time.

"I'm kind of bummed that it's co-championship, but it's nice that we got here and played good as a team," he said. "I think we're going to schedule a little make-up game of our own and play for fun. That's what we're talking about, so we'll see."

Nuese believes any players with departure plans would have adjusted for a postponed state final on Maui.

"Guys would've stayed. If it's on Maui, it definitely would've been packed," said Nuese, who will play at North Park University in Chicago next season.