Punahou softball seniors relish chance to swing away

Paul Honda, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·4 min read

Apr. 11—The strangest of times is also the most grateful of times for Punahou seniors Liana Heshiki and Tiani Wayton.

The Buffanblu evened their record at 2-2 in Interscholastic League of Honolulu play on Saturday afternoon with a 12-2 win over 'Iolani in six innings. With a very brief preseason—one exhibition game and no tournaments—Punahou and its fellow ILH members have been in a Twilight Zone time warp.

Heshiki, a left-handed, power-hitting catcher, belted a home run, drove home two runs and scored two. After the 2020 spring season was canceled—and the hopes of a talented team dashed—the'21 regular season is now halfway through.

"It doesn't feel normal. I mean, I'm glad it's back kind of to normal, but it's not the same without the parents and everybody shouting in the background, " Heshiki said. "But you've got to make do with what you have, and I'm grateful for that."

Normally, her entire family shows up for games, including her grandmother. She also misses her teammates' families. With no spectators allowed, fans are tuning in to games via live streaming.

"Asia (Lee )'s dad was one of the loudest parents in the outfield. I miss hearing him. All the way out there, " Heshiki said.

Coming back to the diamond also meant having almost no games in a shortened preseason.

"Everybody, even the pros, they don't have a preseason, so that's tough to get a feel for the game a little bit more, get your errors out and get all the jitters out, " said Heshiki, who signed with Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma.

Wayton is still adjusting to softball in a different era.

"It feels extremely different, especially with the masks. Even our celebrations, we have to stay separated from each other, " said Wayton, who will attend Linfield. "It feels so good to be back on the field. Extremely good, especially after last year was so short. I'm glad that my senior year, I still get to play it."

Losing the'20 season sent teams into a time warp of sorts.

"My expectation was coaching sophomores, juniors and seniors, but after the first couple of games, I realized that we're actually coaching freshmen, sophomores and juniors because we totally lost last year, " Punahou coach Dave Eldredge said. "We kind of took it back and we decided to be more patient. We started from the basics and made sure that we weren't doing something too advanced. This past week-and-a-half, we've been happy with the progress. It's still a work in progress and hopefully we'll get to where we need to be."

For the Raiders, Saturday was especially unusual. Three starters—cleanup hitter and right fielder Allie Capello, third baseman Harley Acoba and center fielder Lexie Tilton—are on the road, playing in a Las Vegas tournament with the OC Batbusters, one of the prominent softball clubs in California. The plan to play in the event was made long before there was any certainty about a high school spring sports season. The three traveling Raiders had the blessing of 'Iolani coach Benny Agbayani.

"It is important. I told them that they need to get looked at, because in this pandemic a lot of these colleges aren't offering athletic scholarships, " he said. "Two of them are going to be seniors next year. The other one's going to be a junior. Right now is a great opportunity for them to get looked at. My goal is to get these kids into college. I emphasize grades because a lot of coaches are asking about their GPA and their (test ) scores."

His daughter, Ailana, started at shortstop and pitched. She is already committed to BYU, so in-season travel wasn't a must. That drew a cheerful holler from a nearby Cougars fan, Coach Eldredge.

"School is more important than sports, " she said. "Sports can further your education, but school will get you a good job and a degree."

The ILH Division I softball playoffs, a single-elimination format, will begin on May 5 and conclude on May 14.—For more Hawaii high school sports, visit the.