Leilehua’s Baseball Team Getting Hot At The Right Time

The Leilehua baseball team has clinched a berth in the OIA post-season tournament with two games to go, but expect them to be in playoff mode Saturday afternoon when it hosts Waipahu in its season finale.

“We want to enter (the post-season) on a good note,” head coach Lane Watanuki said. “Right now is a critical point in our season, and that’s the message I’ll be giving them today when we’re in the weight room. We want to finish in the right way.”

Leilehua took a 3-7 mark into last weekend when they were to meet still-winless Kapolei. A riveting 9-6 win over Mililani last Wednesday put the Mules into the playoffs, as it ensured a full three-game lead over Kapolei for the fifth and last playoff berth from the West.

The win also gave Leilehua a season sweep over Mililani in addition to ending the Mules’ three-game losing streak.

“The boys really wanted to play, and it showed that day,” Watanuki said. “We really want to push in the coming days to try to get better in practice and peak in the playoffs.”

Given the ultra-competitive nature of the Red West, it won’t surprise anyone if the OIA Champion should again emerge from the West. The Mules hope to be in the mix themselves.

“Anybody can beat anybody in the playoffs,” Watanuki said. “No. 1, every one there deserves to be there. No. 2, it’s a matter of who gets hot at the end. It’s how you finish – not how you start. It’s a cliché, but it really is true.”

As during the regular season, the Mules will look to seniors Brandon Smithe (pitcher/infielder), Ian Kaopua (catcher/pitcher) and Cody Academia (outfield/pitcher) to lead the way in the playoffs.

“I expect the seniors to show the most leadership and carry most of the load. They’re also the coaches’ eyes on campus during the day. They’ve all done their jobs.”

Shoring up their defense will be a priority in the coming days, according to Watanuki, whose team struggled in the field during their losing streak.

“We stunk up the field, but against Mililani we were OK,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do, defensively, but we’ve been getting some timely hits and we’ve been lucky at the right times.”

Watanuki is expecting the Mules to face Waipahu ace Dylan Sugimoto in Saturday’s game. The Mules will counter with their own No. 1 in Cody Academia, as both teams will have sufficient time to rest their entire pitching staffs prior to the start of next week’s OIA tournament. The top five finishers at that tourney will earn league berths for next month’s Division I state baseball tournament.