You could just feel it coming. From the early practice sessions three months ago and all the way through the Maui Interscholastic League season and playoffs three weeks past, Lady Lunas softball had that championship-caliber shine to it.
So, for the first time since the 2004 team rose to the top and knocked off Baldwin, Lahainaluna softball will hoist a championship banner and mark a bar on the “L” on Pu‘u Pa‘u Pa‘u for 2011. And look out MIL, ’cause the Lady Lunas are just getting the red tide rolling.
There are but two seniors on coach Lei Nakamura’s roster in mainstays Tricia Bonifacio, the team’s standout catcher, and Makana Hussey at third base, both of whom will be sorely missed in the coming years.
But returning for more will be the diminutive package of dynamite in pitcher Hope Morikawa, as well as the outstanding keystone combination of Brenna and Haley Nakamura and Kaua Arcangel in center field.
Shelby Uwekoolani in left field and Gina Miyamoto in right rounded out a lineup that shined defensively all year long.
Morikawa repeatedly told the media, “They always have my back. I know I can depend on my defense to pull us through.” Yes, defense wins championships.
Indeed, it was a team of infielders that got their uniforms very dirty diving for hard hit grounders, and outfielders that chased down everything hit to the gaps. And that million dollar smile behind the mask of catcher Bonifacio belied a backstop intensity — short circuited by a frightening foul tip incident in last year’s title game — that rarely let a pitch get by, let a runner advance or a pop up hit the ground.
But for the first MIL game where the Lunas pounded the Lady Bears, and the championship tournament final where they shut out Maui High, the Lady Lunas really didn’t pile up the runs en route to the title and its 13-1 record.
They did it with the trademark defense developed by Coach Lei and assistants Joe Keanini, Ekolu Wallace, Josh Wallace, Talia Filikitonga and Eke Watson.
It seems it was always this way in the Lahainaluna softball program of Alvin Agawa years ago, then with Earle Kukahiko — who advanced the success with the development of the youth teams in Lahaina — and on into the current edition with Coach Lei and the high school team, and Dennis Harmon leading the youth program to higher success.
Coach Lei was her usual humble self following the title game, saying only that she didn’t have the words to accurately describe how happy she was. Foremost for her was thanking the Lahaina community for their constant support throughout the years and to her husband, Flint, the quiet one behind the scenes who keeps the Lahainaluna softball diamond shining. And, more important to Coach Lei, provides the family support that allows her to lead this successful softball program.
Now, it is state playoff time, and Lahainaluna will probably be the third seed in the Honolulu tournament at the U.H. Wahine Softball Stadium next week.
Imua, Lady Lunas! Enjoy the ride.