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Na Ali‘i Girls Vie For Top Softball Berths, Close Out Season

Should Aiea’s softball team produce another riveting postseason run this spring, they likely will look back on their work ethic as a contributing factor.

“Peaking at the end was our goal from the beginning,” said Na Ali‘i head coach Alan Higuchi. “We’ve been having high-intensity practices, and the girls have responded to our plan as far as practice and games.”

Although Aiea entered the last week of OIA’s White Conference regular season, Na Ali‘i have been in postseason mode seemingly all season, as they pursue one of the league’s top two seeds for the upcoming Red tournament. It not only would mean automatic entry into the semifinals, but it also would guarantee Na Ali‘i one of the league’s berths for the DataHouse Division II state softball tournament.

Na Ali‘i entered last weekend with a 6-2 record, and locked in a battle with Nanakuli and Kalaheo for one of the aforementioned top two seeds. Nanakuli still was unbeaten 9-0, so Na Ali‘i’s main competition for second seed was the Mustangs. Aiea defeated Kalaheo (14-2) in their regular-season meeting March 14 to help their cause.

Aiea finished second in the OIA White last season and went on to take fourth in the DII state tournament.

Higuchi cited his team’s senior leadership as a big strength to date, behind veterans Kayla Higuchi, Riley Tagawa, Kailie Alama and Raisa Strom-Okimoto. (Strom-Okimoto has been out of the lineup all season with an injury.)

“We’ve been kind of riding their backs,” Higuchi said. On the field, Higuchi also credited new pitching coach Megan Rigos as having made a huge difference. A Pennsylvania native, Rigos played collegiately at Division I Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and has been tutoring Aiea pitchers Poamai Tuli and Vesi Liilii. “Poamai has a presence

about her,” Higuchi noted of Tuli. “In the heat of the battle, she’s able to stay calm.

“Vesi was a little inexperienced as a pitcher when she came to us, but she’s a good athlete, and Megan has done an outstanding job with her as far as getting her to excel with different pitches, rather than just a fastball,” he added of Liilii.

Both Tuli and Liilii have found much support behind them, defensively.

“We’ve kind of hung our hat on our defense,” Higuchi said. “Our pitching and catching have been above average, and our defense has been good as far as making the routine plays.”

Although Aiea has posted some big numbers in wins, three games were forfeits, so opportunities at the plate have been limited.

“Offensively, we’ve been coming around after a slow start,” Higuchi said. “The forfeits left us down three games, which is one of the reasons why we hadn’t been getting the ‘game reps.’ Lately, we’ve been playing every weekend, so we’re hoping we can build some confidence (in their hitting). I always tell the girls, ‘anyone can have one good game.’ What we’re looking for is consistency and good at bats in five or six games (in succession).”

Aiea closes out its regular season 10 a.m. Saturday at home against Farrington. Pairings for the White tournament, which will run next Wednesday-Friday, will be revealed Saturday.