WAIMEA — After winning the school’s first league title in seven years, the Menehune are now in uncharted waters as the team prepares for the postseason.
But it’s a challenge that they will welcome on home turf.
“We’re just taking it day by day. Our coaches in practice, they’re just telling us that they’re happy for us. But at the same time, they’re telling us to get back to work and to keep on going,” said Menehune junior pitcher Tysson Unciano. “They told us to be above average. There’s good teams coming, but they’ve helped us prepare all throughout the season.”
Waimea High School’s varsity baseball team is seeded No. 4 in the 2019 Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Championships-Division II state tournament. The Menehune will face Molokai High School of the Maui Interscholastic League in the quarterfinals 7 p.m. Thursday at Vidinha Stadium.
“The state tournament are the people that have done the best within their league. We know these guys are great teams coming here to compete for a state title,” said first-year head coach Chad Delanoza. “I don’t know anything about any of the teams. This new to me, too. I’m taking it as it comes.”
After a promising start to the season, Waimea (8-4-1 KIF, 2-3-1 first round, 5-1 second round, 1-0 playoff) ended the first round on a three-game skid as Kapaa went on to win the round. The Menehune then went 5-1 to win the second round to force a playoff game with Kapaa.
In that playoff game against the Warriors, the Menehune clinched their first league title since 2012 on a three-RBI double by Cory Goias-Soares in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Goias-Soares said of the hit. “When I went up to bat, we had a timeout. Coach Chad was telling me, ‘Keep doing your thing.’ Our other coach, he was telling me to focus and get a good at-bat. And then, just went in there and focused.”
He added of winning a league title: “It was unbelievable. It was a great feeling finally getting that championship.”
Waimea had struggled and had last-place finishes in the past few seasons. To finally have won a title, Unciano said, he was “speechless.”
“Everybody was over there to watch us. After the final out, it was childhood dreams coming to reality. Ever since I was little, I wanted to win one. Thank God we got to win one this year.”
For success to have come this quickly and in his first year, Delanoza said that fact hasn’t hit him yet because he’s solely focused on the process.
“It was a matter of trying to find the process that they would buy into, something that they saw it fit that was going to get them where they wanted to go,” Delanoza said. “We had set out a plan, and that was basically what we went about every day — to get after our plan to get to our final goal. Even if we had lost KIF, just the fact that we knew where we’re going and the work we put in, things like that do happen. You get the good side of things where it just pans out.”
Unciano said trust was a factor in the team’s success this season.
“This year, I don’t know. We just have a better bond together,” Unciano said. “Everybody gets each other. We’ve been playing with each other since Little League. So, we have that tight bond. Each person has a different aspect they can apply to a game. And with a new coaching staff, they’re just always reminding us to keep pushing, always have courage and commitment. One thing we focused on was being family and staying together, and just play our hearts out.”
Not only did Delanoza win his first KIF baseball title in his first season as the head coach. It was his second league championship this academic year.
This past fall, he served his final season as the school’s varsity girls volleyball head coach. The girls volleyball team was 11-1 this year as Delanoza won his eighth KIF girls volleyball championship in 14 years as head coach in October before making the switch to the baseball program.
To have won both was “a great honor,” Delanoza said.
Something that was established during his time as the volleyball coach which took time to instill into the baseball program, he added, was the notion of accountability among the players.
“Girls volleyball, they had something unique. They had a really good mindset, and they would hold each other accountable. Baseball was learning that,” he said. “We were helping them get through that. No so much calling people out, but helping them grow through their mistakes — to know there’s a next pitch or a next inning, just like there’s a next serve or the next set. It’s the same kind of advice we gave in volleyball.”
Now, Waimea is about to make its first appearance at the baseball state tournament since 2012. This is new territory for Delanoza and the Waimea baseball team.
“I don’t know how they’re going to handle it, to be honest with you. I just told them, ‘Enjoy the journey and to enjoy what’s going on. You deserve it, and don’t put too much stress on yourselves,’” said head coach Chad Delanoza. “You’re not at your best when you’re stressed out. You’re at your best when you’re having fun.”
One thing that the Menehune has going for them, perhaps, is home-field advantage.
“It’s an advantage. Hopefully, we can get everybody on Kauai to get there,” Unciano said.
Thursday’s Division II schedule
At Vidinha Stadium
Game 1: No. 3 Saint Francis (ILH) vs. Konawaena (BIIF), 11:30 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 Radford (OIA) vs. Seabury Hall (MIL), 2 p.m.
Game 3: No. 1 KS-Hawaii (BIIF) vs. Waipahu (OIA), 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: No. 4 Waimea (KIF) vs. Molokai (MIL), 7 p.m.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.