HANAPEPE — On Friday, Waimea head baseball coach Michael Rita said the key to Saturday’s KIF title game against the Kaua‘i Red Raiders would be pitching and defense. If the Menehune could play soundly in the field and keep the Red Raiders off the bases, Rita said somehow the Menehune would find a way to win.
Turns out he was right.
Mikeo Rita pitched a complete game two-hitter and the Menehune capitalized on two third-inning Kaua‘i mental errors with three runs to beat the Red Raiders 3-1 Saturday afternoon in the KIF title game at Hanapepe Stadium.
The win advances the Menehune to the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association Division II State Baseball Championships beginning May 9 on O‘ahu.
“Defense was the game today,” coach Rita said. “IF you play strong defense something is going to happen on offense. We made the team believe that and it showed today.”
After giving up a hit in the first inning to Jensen Koga, Mikeo Rita pitched on auto-pilot. In the complete-game win, Rita struck out eight batters with zero walks. The only trouble Rita got into was in the top of the seventh inning. With the Menehune leading 3-0, Jensen Koga wound up on third base after this single to right field was misplayed by Justin Silva. With a runner on third with no outs, the Raiders hoped to being their comeback.
Waimea’s defense had other plans.
In the next at-bat, Kal Koga rocketed a ball up the middle of the diamond, scoring Jensen Koga. But what should have been a single was turned into an out, as shortstop BJ Frietas ranged far to his left to snare the ball and rifled off a throw that just beat the runner.
“BJ made a great play to make that last out,” Mikeo Rita said. “That was the key.”
Rita said with the defense behind him, he was able to shake off the run-scored and finish the game. The senior got the next two Raiders to ground out to clinch the win.
“I was confident and took my time,” Rita said. “I blanked out all the outside noise and we pitched a good game.”
Kaua‘i’s inability to match Waimea in getting timely outs put the Red Raiders in a hole early. In the third inning Justin Silva led off with a double and advanced to third on a Mikey Rita bunt single. Silva scored in the next at-bat when Jordan Kamakea hit a groundball to Kal Koga at third base. Koga first looked like he was going to throw home to get Kamakea at the plate before changing his mind, but the speed Kamakea made it to first safely, as did Rita at second, giving Kamakea the RBI infield single. Frietas drove in Rita with a bloop single to right field in the next at-bat which was followed by a bizarre play that gave the Menehune their third run.
After a wild-pitch advanced Kamakea to third and Freitas to second, Mikeo Rita lashed a ball up the middle that was stopped by a diving Jensen Koga. Koga threw out Rita at first base for the first out and it appeared that the Raiders would pick up a double play when Kamakea got caught in a rundown between third and home. Kamakea retreated back to third — a base that Freitas was all ready occupying. Kamakea somehow managed to avoid being tagged at the base and advanced to home to score Waimea’s third run of the game.
“Pressure builds upon people,” Kaua‘i head coach Hank Ibia said, “and today we didn’t handle pressure well that inning.”
The three runs in the third were all the Menehune could get off of Kaua‘i starter Erin Doi. The Red Raider hurler pitched six-innings for the Red Raiders and limited the Menehune to six hits. Doi walked one batter and had zero strikeouts.
Doi’s solid outing came as no surprise, as he and Rita have paced the KIF all-season. But with the championship on the line, Rita was slightly better.
“He pitched with confidence and we couldn’t touch him at all,” Ibia said. “They say good pitching beats good hitting and that’s what happened today.”
• Tyson Alger, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or by emailing talger@ thegardenisland.com. Follow him on twitter.com/tysonalger.