Taking the wheel

HANAPEPE — With the Kaua‘i Red Raiders holding the KIF’s Round 1 title, Waimea Menehune head coach Michael Rita said his team knew Wednesday was a critical game. If the Menehune won, they would control their Round 2 destiny, setting up a winner-take all championship game.

Two first inning runs and seven innings of lights-out pitching later, and the Menehune are well on their way toward a championship showdown.

The Menehune jumped on Kaua‘i starter Nick Vallatini for two first inning runs, and the pitching duo of Mikeo Rita and BJ Freitas limited the Red Raiders to a single run in a 3-1 win Wednesday afternoon at Hanapepe Stadium.

The win improved Waimea’s Round 2 record to 3-1, while the Red Raiders fell to 2-3.

“We knew we wanted to jump ahead of them and stay ahead,” coach Rita said. “We scored some runs and played tough defense.”

Waimea wasted no time getting to Vallatini. Jordan Kamakea led off the bottom of the first with a sharp single to center. Kamakea advanced to third when Freitas crushed a 2-0 pitch to left-center for a ground-rule double.

Kamakea scored on a Mikeo Rita sacrifice fly to right field for the first run of the game. Two walks later, Brigg Perreira drove in Freitas with his own sacrifice fly to right.

“He was getting behind with the first pitch,” Kaua‘i head coach Hank Ibia said of Vallatini. “When you get behind early, they capitalize.”

Vallatini steadied to pitch four innings, limiting the Menehune to four hits and the two first-inning runs. Erin Doi pitched from the fifth inning on to finish the game. Michael Rita said he was surprised that the Red Raiders didn’t start Doi from the beginning. Doi pitched a complete game shutout in a 10-0 win over Kapa‘a on Saturday and leads the league in wins. Ibia said he needed to see what he had with Vallatini, and despite the two first-inning runs, the left hander composed himself well on the mound.

“They scored two runs off of him and that’s it,” Ibia said. “It’s easy to judge me after it’s all said and done, but he pitched well after the first inning.”

Ibia said the biggest reason for the loss was the Red Raiders’ inability to get to the Waimea pitching. The Menehune limited the Red Raiders to three hits in the game, and the only time Waimea got into trouble was because of its wildness. After hitting Triston Bukoski to lead off the third inning, Mikeo Rita threw two wild pitches, advancing Bukoski to third. The Red Raiders picked up their lone run when Bukoski scored on a Kellen Aquino fielder’s choice. Rita was lifted in the inning after giving up a single and a walk, but Freitas retired the two batters he faced to end the threat.

Freitas picked up the win by pitching four and two-thirds innings, giving up no runs, two hits and four walks while striking out three batters.

“B.J. came out and did a great job for the team,” Coach Rita said. “We have trust in him pitching.”

The Menehune picked up their third run in the fifth inning. After a Mikeo Rita double with two outs, Brock Ephan was intentionally walked to bring up Alika Emayo. The moved appeared to work when Emayo hit a routine pop-up over second base, but shortstop Jensen Koga and second baseman Shane Ogata made an attempt at the ball. The two players bumped into each other and the ball bounced off of Ogata’s glove, letting Rita, who was running on the play, easily score for the two-run advantage.

The extra run hurt the Red Raiders in the final inning, Ibia said. When Kal Koga reached base on a one-out single, Ibia said the two-run deficit changed the way they would have approached the next at-bat.

“We could have gotten him to second base with a sacrifice,” Ibia said. “It just adds another punch for them. Once you get one down and get guys on base, it puts the pressure on (the other team.)”

Instead of a sacrifice, Austin Oshiro grounded into a game-ending double play.

The win puts the Menehune in the Round 2 driver’s seat. Waimea will finish their regular season on Saturday with a double header against the Kapa‘a Warriors. Despite his team’s current place in the standings, Coach Rita said Saturday will be a challenge against the 1-2 Warriors.

“We have to go out there and play good ball,” Rita said. “Kapa‘a wants us. They want Kaua‘i High School. We have to go out there and play our game.”

Saturday’s double header at Ron Martin Field in Kapa‘a begins at 10 a.m.

• Tyson Alger, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or by emailing talger@thegardenisland.com.

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