The West Kaua‘i Bronco All-Stars squeezed two runs in the eighth inning to break a 4-4 stalemate and take the lead in the Best-of-3 playoff series, Tuesday afternoon.
The 6-4 WK victory sets the stage for this afternoon’s battle at the Kalawai Park when Lihu‘e will attempt to stay alive in the playoffs. Another WK victory will give the Westsiders the Bronco island title. A Lihu‘e comeback will force a third game on Saturday. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today.
Mikeo Rita and Kendall Kaohi scored on a sacrifice bunt by Leighton Medina with just one out. Rita, who had done a masterful job on the mound for West Kaua‘i through six innings, got first by beating out the throw from third base. He was followed by Kaohi drawing a walk off relief pitcher Kellen Aquino with no outs in the eighth frame.
Alika Emayo was intentionally walked to fill the pads to set the stage for the game-winning play. Emayo finished with the big bat for WK, ending the day 3-3 with three RBI and a stolen base.
Earlier, it was the Lihu‘e Broncos’ opportunity to thrill its large contingent of fans as the redshirts pushed three runs across the plate in the sixth inning to deadlock the contest after several missed opportunities.
Jensen Koga, who finished the day 3-3 with a double and two stolen bags, got aboard when his hit took a big hop over WK shortstop Emayo’s outstretched arms to open the inning. Erin Doi singled, advancing Koga to third, and both runners scored when Trey Smith, with no outs, lofted a 2-RBI smash into deep leftfield that bounced away from WK fielder Kawehi Ephan.
That sent WK coaches to the mound to relieve Rita with Emayo.
But Smith represented the tying run, and on a squeeze play from Pono Tokioka in the batter’s box, Smith crossed the plate, a yell escaping his lips amidst the dust as the contest was deadlocked 4-4.
Both teams opened the scorebooks in the second inning as Emayo smashed a solo homerun to the deepest part of centerfield to open the frame for West Kaua‘i. That feat was answered by Smith, who patiently waited through pitches before making his bat sing with a solo shot that bounced over the right-centerfield fence for the 1-1 tie.
Koga, who started on the mound for Lihu‘e, struck out the side in the third, but in the fourth frame, West Kaua‘i capitalized on the redshirt pitcher for three runs.
Rita started the action, singling to short. Pitching through three innings, Koga issued his first walk to Kaohi to set the stage for Emayo who drove both runners home on a shot through the Lihu‘e shortstop gap.
A sacrifice bunt by Kalen Iwai drove Emayo home for the 4-1 West Kaua‘i lead that stood until the sixth inning when Lihu‘e came back.
Both teams played the quality of baseball that kept fans on both sides thrilled.
Lihu‘e had the meat of its batting lineup come up in the bottom of the seventh, but defensive maneuvering by West Kaua‘i stifled a tie-breaking attempt for victory.
Kellen Aquino got aboard on a walk, but was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice off Archie Vallatini. Jensen Koga, who up to this point was 3-for-3 in hitting, walked. Then the WK pitching stiffened and the next two Lihu‘e batters were struck out leaving two runners, and a hope for a win, stranded.
Koga suffered the loss with four runs allowed in seven innings of work. But he gave up just five hits including the Emayo shot while striking out 10 WK batters.
Emayo was credited with the win for West Kaua‘i.