LIHUE — The Red Raiders fell to the Saints last year in a state play-in game. Kauai’s queens of the diamond hope to come out on top in the rematch.
“It’s exciting and scary all at the same time, but I think we’ll be OK,” said Kauai High varsity softball head coach Elena Kealoha during Monday’s practice at Isenberg Park.
Kauai Interscholastic Federation softball champion Kauai High School is set for the DataHouse Softball State Championships – Division II tournament, which begins today at the Patsy Mink Softball Stadium on Maui.
“When people would ask me, even about KIF, ‘How do you think your girls will do?’ I pretty much told them if this team loses, it’s because of mental errors. I think it’s the same game going into states,” Kealoha said. “If we lose, it should be mental errors because we got a solid team. We got a lot of talent. So, we just got to make sure the mentality is there as well.”
The Red Raider girls face Saint Francis School of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu in the tournament’s opening round at 7 tonight.
Kauai High (7-2 KIF) played Saint Francis in a Division II play-in game for a chance at a berth at states last year. Kauai lost that game, 16-15, at Isenberg Park.
“I remember that they hit well, but I know that my team can hit well, too,” said Red Raiders senior pitcher Kailee Nii. “I’m confident we’ll be able to come out on top. I believe in my teammates. I know what they can do. I think we’ll do well.”
Kealoha added: “We still have some stats from when we played them last year. So, we can look at those. But it is a new year and a new team. You never know how much they’ve improved from last year, how many (players) they lost, or whatever it is. We just got to play our game.”
In preparing for the tournament on Maui, the team had the help of school staff member Rynee Bukoski, a former All-American at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“We’re trying to hit off different pitches because Oahu (teams) got whole different pitching than we do here,” Kealoha said.
Kauai, despite winning the KIF league crown, enters the tournament unseeded.
“At first we were not really upset, but just frustrated because now we have to play on Wednesday,” Kealoha said of not receiving a seed and a first-round bye. “Either way, we’re up for the challenge and we’re ready to work. We got Saint Francis on Wednesday, and then we’ll see from there.”
Nii said she doesn’t mind not being seeded because she gets to play one additional game in her senior season.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to play like this. When we went my freshman year, we weren’t seeded. We had to play our way up to the semifinals,” Nii said. “It’s one more game. So what? I’m excited to play. I’m happy we get to go to the tournament.”
The last time Kauai High won a Division II state championship was in 2009 under then-coach Darrell Borrero. The last time the KIF claimed a D2 crown was when Waimea High School won in 2012 under former coach Teddy Perreira.
“That would be crazy,” Kealoha said about possibly winning a state title. “It’s obviously our goal. But to bring it back to Kauai, I know Waimea had it a few years ago. They’ve been doing well. Our hope is to do the same.”
Nii added: “That would be unbelievable. We’ve worked so hard. I’ve played softball with some of these girls since we were in elementary school. Getting all the way to that point would be like everything finally paid off. That would probably be the best feeling in the world.”
Nii also said regardless of how the team will play at the tournament, she hopes this season will be the springboard that will propel Kauai High to continue to do well in the KIF.
“I hope to start something for the program. Kauai High hadn’t won KIF in seven years. I hope that because we started up again this year, they’ll keep it going, that they’ll pick it up from where we left off and keep the program strong,” Nii said.
Wednesday’s Division II schedule:
Game 1: Aiea (OIA) vs. Konawaena (BIIF), 12:14 p.m.
Game 2: Molokai (MIL) vs. Kalani (OIA), 2:30 p.m.
Game 3: Kohala (BIIF) vs. Farrington (OIA), 4:45 p.m.
Game 4: Kauai (KIF) vs. Saint Francis (ILH), 7 p.m.
Thursday’s Division II schedule:
Game 5 (consolation): L-2 vs. L-1, 10 a.m.
Game 6 (quarterfinals): No. 2 Pac-Five (ILH), vs. W-2, 12 p.m.
Game 7 (quarterfinals): No. 1 Nanakuli (OIA) vs. W-3, 2:15 p.m.
Game 8 (quarterfinals): No. 3 Kamehameha Schools – Hawaii (BIIF) vs. W1, 4:30 p.m.
Game 9 (quarterfinals): No. 4 Lanai (MIL) vs. W-4, 6:45 p.m.