Damien’s baseball team certainly took its lumps during the 2022 regular season, finishing 2-12 in ILH play against a daunting slate of seven Division I teams and some of the best competition the state has to offer.
As the only Division II team in the ILH, the Monarchs qualified for the HHSAA D-II tournament before the season even started. Although it didn’t take the sting away from losing the majority of their games, the team ultimately knew that the season would boil down to three days in May.
“It was a really tough season,” senior pitcher Peter Pappalardo said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, mainly downs, but we knew by the time the state tournament comes, we’d have to peak at that point, and that’s exactly what I think we did. We just needed to keep everybody in it, keep our heads in it and keep working hard and be at our top when the tournament starts.”
Despite their struggles earlier in the year, the Monarchs made the most of their clean slate, going 3-0 in the state tournament from May 5-7 to win its first HHSAA title since 2018.
In the first game, Damien took down MIL champion and No. 4 seed Molokai 8-2, which entered the tournament 5-0.
The next contest presented the biggest challenge of the tournament, as the Monarchs were facing top-seeded Kamehameha-Hawaii, who entered 8-0 for the 2022 season and were the de facto hosts at Hilo’s Francis Wong Stadium. But Damien had no problem dispatching the tournament favorites, winning 12-2 in six innings via mercy rule.
In the championship game, Damien used a 10-run first inning to take down KIF champion Waimea 10-5, winning its third game in as many days to claim the state title. Pappalardo earned the win with six innings of work on the mound.
After two years of not holding any spring state tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HHSAA returned to form and was able to crown champions across a bevy of sports as usual. Perhaps no state champion in 2022 was as unlikely as the Damien baseball team, which won more games in the state tournament (3) than it did in the regular season (2). The Monarchs finished their 2022 campaign at 5-12, winning their most crucial games when it mattered most.
“It was just sticking together,” said Lawa Ah Yat, who had a team-high three hits in the championship game en route to earning Most Outstanding Player honors. “We just had to stick together and play our game, focus on us and just get on top and that’s what we did.
“It feels great. Playing as a senior and leaving Damien as a champion. We have great young kids on the team, very hard workers. They wanted it as much as we wanted it as seniors. They just wanted to play, they just wanted to win for us and for Damien. But we have a bright future ahead of us.”
Pappalardo and Ah Yat are just two of the team’s four seniors, signaling a bright future for second-year head coach Skyler Tengan and his program.
Based on the talent it hosts, the ILH appears primed to be arguably the state’s most competitive league again in 2023. The Monarchs will be more than prepared to face the wringer next season, knowing they have what it takes to survive when the going gets tough.
“It’s a very young team. I really feel like we started a culture with this tournament win,” Pappalardo said. “It’s huge for Damien because the last couple state tournaments, not having it happen, I’m really glad it happened my senior year because it got brought back right in time for us to show what we got and I think it’s going to create a really good foundation for the future of Damien baseball for us to grow and become one of the top teams.”