Pomai Kim drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning to score Jordan Donahue and Damien walked off with a 2-1 win over Saint Francis in eight innings to capture the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division II championship on an overcast afternoon at Ala Wai Community Park Friday.
The Monarchs rode the pitching of Javin Cortez, who went the distance and scattered four hits, to extend their winning streak to eight games. They improved to 15-5 on the season and clinched the ILH's lone berth into next week's Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA State Championships.
"It feels unreal. Three years of playing and never making it to states, but finally we did it," said Cortez, who threw 105 pitches in his longest outing of the season.
Cortez, a senior right-hander, outlasted Saint Francis senior Jared Yara, who went 6 2/3 innings before exiting the game with 106 pitches. The Saints' ace allowed just two hits with five strikeouts and six walks.
"Great pitching. I think today both pitchers matched up well," Damien coach Timo Donahue said. "Yara threw a hell of a game. Our guy threw a hell of a game, so they always say good pitching is going to stop good hitting and I think we're a pretty good hitting team."
Damien took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth on Shiloh Kaeo's two-out RBI single that scored Akila Arecchi.
However, Saint Francis evened the score on a Shawn Ellis RBI-single that plated Bubba Akana with two outs in the top of the sixth.
The Monarchs got back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the eighth by Jordan Donahue and Jayden Cabbab. A wild pitch by Saint Francis reliever Zach Alcos allowed both base runners to move up to scoring position, which led to an intentional walk to Kaeo to load the bases.
Kim, who was 0 for 3 up to then, stepped to the plate and took four pitches from Alcos to drive in Donahue for the game-winning run.
Alcos was the losing pitcher. He surrendered two hits, walked two and struck out one in 2/3 of an inning.
Each team recorded four hits in the game. Saint Francis catcher Makana Poole was the lone player to pair hits.
Cortez threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 31 batters he faced and stranded six base runners — five of them in scoring position. He got nine ground-ball outs, eight fly-ball outs and picked off a base runner.
It was the fifth time that Cortez had faced the Saints this season. He was tagged for a combined 24 runs — 14 of them earned — on 21 hits in his previous four outings against them this year.
"I think with him today it was just more of a command of certain pitches that he throws," Donahue said. "Today we threw curveballs and change-ups that didn't get hit as bad as they did early in the season when everything was up in the zone. Today he kept it down, for the most part, and then the scouting reports got better throughout the year."
Cortez got out of a jam in the third inning when he issued back-to-back one-out walks to James Yamasaki and John Paul Tilley, but got Bubba Akana to pop out to first for the second out, and retired Makana Poole with a ground out to first base to escape unscathed.
The sixth inning saw Cortez wiggle his way out of another predicament. Bubba Akana hit a one-out double and eventually scored on Ellis' RBI bloop-single to right, but Cortez minimized the damage by getting Alcos to pop out to center to strand two runners in scoring position to end the inning.
"Our boys backed us up and did their jobs and came out hard," said Cortez, who improved to 6-4 on the year with a 3.27 ERA. "Even when I messed up, they were there behind my back no matter what."
Cortez dug deep to get through the top of the eighth inning. He went 0-2 to leadoff batter Tilley, but hit him with his next pitch to put him aboard. However, he got Bubba Akana to pop up on a bunt attempt. Cortez made a diving basket catch on the bunt and threw to first to double-up Tilley for the second out. Poole hit a two-out single to center to represent the go-ahead run for the Saints, but Cortez got the third out on a pop up by Yara.
"I knew my pitch count and as long as I let them hit the ball, my team would get the outs. I knew it," Cortez said.
Timo Donahue said Cortez was resilient on the mound in a high-pressure situation.
"He showed a lot of grit. He showed a lot of grit this whole season pretty much," Donahue said. "He came on as a sophomore two years ago and didn't pitch much. Last year we asked him to pitch, he struggled through it. This year, he really took it by the reins."
It was the ninth meeting between the teams this season. Saint Francis, the first-round champion, won the first three games, but Damien, the second-round titlist, was victorious in the final six — the last two coming in must-win games.
"I think it shows a lot about the character of this team, as far as perseverance and staying with the process," Donahue said. "I think we finally put things together several weeks ago and it just continued and you know, you start having success, learning how to win games and I think it just carried on and build up that never-give-up attitude in us."
Saint Francis, which won its first nine games of the season, dropped its third in a row — all against the Monarchs.
"It was a good pitcher's duel," Saint Francis coach Kip Akana said. "It was a pretty clean game, we just tip our caps to Damien. They came on strong and they maintained that momentum all the way through the championship game."
The Saints lost four of their final fives games to end the season at 14-7. They were seeking a second straight ILH championship.
"It's a little bit easier (to stomach the loss) because of the way the game was played," Akana said. "It was a championship, fifteen-round, extra-inning game and you never want to come out on the short end, but we just tip our caps to Timo. He's a good friend of mine and he makes me better."
The D2 state tournament opens Thursday at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu and concludes with Saturday's title game at Les Murakami Stadium at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.