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Mustangs Aim For State Softball Spot

Securing one of the top two seeds for the OIA White softball tournament is an accomplishment that comes with an added perk not lost on Kalaheo head coach John Spencer and staff. Since the top two seeds automatically make the semifinals, entry into the state softball tourney also is assured because the top four OIA White finishers receive the league’s berths.

The arrangement already has Kalaheo in playoff mode, although a few weeks of the season remain. With a 4-2 record, Kalaheo found itself atop the OIA White East standings at press time and in position to make a run for top seed. (The team seeks its first state tournament appearance since 2012, when it was OIA Division II runner-up to Nanakuli.)

“The focus right now is on continuing our level of play,” Spencer said. “Now that we’re coming down to the back end, a few more wins would make a big difference for us.”

After opening the season with back-to-back losses to White West foes Waialua 13-12 and Aiea 14-2, Kalaheo rebounded to sweep Anuenue and Farrington in a pair of doubleheaders. The Mustangs were to play a double-header over the weekend against Kalani before turning their attention to Saturday’s twin bill against Kahuku. (Game one of the double-header starts at 10 a.m., game two is set to begin at about 1 p.m.)

As Kalaheo hits the home stretch, the emphasis is all on the Mustangs themselves, according to Spencer.

“I always tell the girls, ‘It doesn’t matter who we play,'” he said. “What matters is who we are when we get on the field. If we play the way we can, the wins will come. The only thing we can control is the effort that we put into every game.”

The Lady Mustangs went 5-7 last year, their first year in Division II since 2012, and they are led by seniors Jaquelyn Howard, Autumn Grant, Kylie Ishimaru and Brianna Gorgonio.

Howard, who plays infield when not pitching, is a four-year player and currently first in Kalaheo’s pitching rotation. “She’s really come into her own this year,” said the coach. “I attribute this to the fact that it is her senior year, and she’s a lot more focused than in previous years.”

Grant plays third base (and also catcher), while Ishimaru plays second, and Gorgonio is an outfielder/first baseman. Elsewhere throughout Kalaheo’s lineup, underclassmen fill the positions.

“Defensively, we’re pretty good — we have a good infield,” Spencer said. “The key to this whole thing has been our team effort. We have no All-Stars. When everyone contributes even a little, it helps our overall game. We depend on each other. The girls really have gotten into the team concept, and we’ve been getting better as time goes by.”

Offensively, Kalaheo was stellar in the first round of league play, averaging 12 runs per outing through six games. “The more you hit, and the more people you get on base, the better your opportunities,” Spencer said. “Hopefully, we can maintain it and peak at the right time.”

Kahuku was 1-3 through its first four games, dropping games to Aiea and Nanakuli, and splitting a double-header with Kalani.

Following Saturday’s Red Raider games, Kalaheo has a long layoff before closing its season at Radford April 25 and Nanakuli May 2.

The OIA White playoffs are the last week in April, and the DII state softball tournament is May 12-15 at McKinley High and Rainbow Wahine Stadium on the UH Manoa campus.