I said in last week’s column that I was looking forward to covering a state tournament again. It was the first time one came to Kauai since I’ve been with TGI.
It did not disappoint.
The 2019 Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Championships-Division II state tournament played all three days at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue, which was great for me because I didn’t have to drive far.
But aside from that, it was good fun to have a firsthand account of how the KIF champion Waimea Menehune fared in its first state tourney appearance in almost 10 years — as opposed to waiting for online updates or watching it on TV if a KIF team reached the championship game.
Prior to the tournament starting, members of the team said that while they looked forward to the opportunity to vie for a state title, they understood they were going into uncharted waters.
For first-year head coach Chad Delanoza, though he’s had plenty of experience in the girls volleyball state tournament as the school’s former varsity girls volleyball head coach of 14 years, the state baseball tournament was a new animal to him.
And since the last time Waimea won the KIF championship to clinch a berth to states was in 2012, it’s not like there were upperclassmen that the young guys could turn to for advice. This was something that everyone had to just jump into and take their best shot.
The first night of the tournament, I asked around about what people thought Waimea’s chances were. I heard stuff along the lines of, “Well, they’re on a hot streak after winning the second round and then winning KIF. Who knows? If they keep playing like that, they got a chance.”
But then I also heard stuff like, “Whoa, Kamehameha Schools looks pretty good. They’re undefeated for a reason. Did you see their pitcher? He throws hard.”
So, I kind of expected Waimea to end up playing for third place, which wouldn’t have been shameful at all. If a young team reaches the podium in their first state tournament together, that should be something to build off of for next season.
Waimea got past Molokai in the first round to advance. KS-Hawaii, too, took care of business in the first round. The No. 1 Warriors and No. 4 Menehune met in the semifinals.
If Waimea lost, no shame in losing to a team that went into the game 19-0. But, what do you know?
Behind the bat of outfielder Levi Snowden (2 for 3, three RBIs, inside-the-park home run) and a complete game effort on the mound by Tysson Unciano (by the way, Unciano had quite a few complete games this season), the Menehune took down the top-seeded Warriors to hand them their first loss of the year and advance to the championship game.
Then the thought started to float around in my head. “Wow, what if they win? First Division II state championship since 2010? Already a state title in Delanoza’s first year? Winning the championship on Kauai? How amazing would that be?”
But, unfortunately for the home team and the home fans, it was not meant to be.
Waimea ended up losing to Saint Francis in the championship game, but the Menehune would leave one more lasting memory before closing the books on 2019.
Facing a 6-1 deficit in the top of the sixth inning, first baseman Lacin Montemayor knocked a three-run home run to left field to cut the Saints’ lead a bit shorter.
From what I remember, and someone please correct me if I’m incorrect, no one from the KIF had hit a home run all season.
When Montemayor smacked that ball and shot it to left, I thought, “Whoa, he squared that one up. Does this have a chance?”
Before I know it, Montemayor is circling the bases, and Big Blue — the team and supporters — came back to life.
I asked those who had a better view of the home run, “How close was it to the fence?” They said that ball cleared the fence and it wasn’t close.
Really, really impressive.
Hey, I understand losing a championship game sucks. I saw the disappointment on some of the players faces afterward. But I hope they’re still not hanging their heads.
I’ve written in previous stories that before this year, for as long as I’ve been with TGI and covering KIF baseball, Waimea has year after year finished last in the standings. The team was 1-11 in 2018.
Particularly those upperclassmen that I remember from the past few seasons who went through those tough times, it was really neat to see them have their time in the spotlight, relish the opportunity and have the kind of run in the tournament they had.
Way to go.
And I don’t know when the next time a state tournament will come to Kauai again, but I hope that time comes sooner than later.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.