A triumphant return

  • Jason Blasco / The Garden Island

    Keonimana Gents pitcher Wes Kaui delivers a pitch during a Kaua‘i Senior Softball League game Saturday at the Bryan Baptiste Sports Complex in Kapa‘a.

  • Jason Blasco / The Garden Island

    Rookies pitcher Solomon Wong delivers a pitch to a Keonimana Gents batter during a Kaua‘i Senior Softball League game Saturday at Bryan Baptiste Sports Complex in Kapa‘a.

KAPA‘A — Playing an officially sanctioned Kaua‘i Senior Softball League game was not just another contest for Rookies outfielder Nelson Chiba.

Like the rest of his senior-softball colleagues, Chiba hasn’t played at actual game-speed since mid-March.

Attempting to shake off three months of field rust, Chiba competed in a highly-anticipated match between the league’s two premier clubs: the Gents and Rookies Saturday morning at the Bryan Baptiste Sports Complex.

The game, which was dubbed “the battle of the unbeatens” in the pre-COVID-19 world, carried more anticipation for different reasons.

Before the league was postponed, this was an opportunity for the Rookies to have “a statement game.”

This was the Rookies’ opportunity to dethrone the defending 2019 softball champs: the Keonimana Gents.

Now, both teams echoed the sentiment they are just happy to play.

The two offensive field powers showcased their defensive prowess as the Gents prevailed, 9-7.

“It’s like being back in heaven,” Chiba said. “The softball field for us, this is heaven.”

Chiba, who works for the Crash Fire Department at Lihu‘e Airport, kept himself physically fit during the layoff.

“It was hard not to play, but we have to have respect for the other seniors’ safety, too,” Chiba said. “If we played, it could be very detrimental. We had to respect the league and the rules.”

Gents’ player Sam Sheldon dealt with a battle to channel his competitive fire usually reserved for Saturday softball: binge eating.

“The kitchen was calling me every single day,” Sheldon said. “It was hard to stay in shape. I hung in there and did the reps I could to stay loose.”

In his first game, his explanation for overhauling the team nipping at their heels for first place was simple.

“We were just lucky,” Sheldon said. “We got some lucky hits, and the result just came out that way. The Rookies are a good team.”

Gents’ manager Sia Salausa said he is grateful to be playing Saturdays.

The county granted the seniors five regular-season games that will allow them to complete the scheduled first round of their competition.

“We are just going to try to finish,” Salausa said. “We are grateful for them letting us do that. There are a lot of people who want to use the parks and, hopefully, we can, but we will follow whatever rules they set for us.”

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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