Hawaii Air National Guard wraps up softball title

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

Despite a good 9-2 overall record in the regular season, practically no one suspected that the Hawaii Air National Guard (HIANG) would bring home the hardware from the 2017 Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam championship softball tournament.

Seems that people forgot that, like clockwork, the HIANG has developed a habit of winning it all every two years.

Capt. BJ Kalaiki beats the throw at second base.

The team, with players dating back to 2001, won the title in 2013 and 2015. So, fitting the pattern, the softball gods must have ordained the HIANG to walk away with the trophy in 2017.

In a powerful exhibition at the plate, the HIANG rapped out 18 hits, which included a launch over the left-field fence by Senior Airman Darby Ventura, to trounce Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, 16-0, on July 30 in a mercy-rule win and claim the 2017 softball championship at Millican Field, JBPHH.

“This is actually the first time that we had the whole squad,” HIANG team captain 1st Sgt. Danny Hiyama said. “During the season it was hard to put a team together, but I called the guys up and said make sure you make it out for this one. We needed this one. We needed to show everybody that the HIANG is back.”

Master Sgt. Jon Fukumoto makes the routine throw to second base.

Staff Sgt. Rich Nydom was among the team’s batting stars in the final, going a perfect three-for-three with a double that drove in a run in the top of the fourth inning.

In an awesome display of bat control, Nydom, who was one of the smallest players on the team, consistently found the hole and even showed some power. He cranked a long fly ball that went over the head of the left fielder for a double.

“Once they (PHNSY) move players on the field, I try to hit them where they are not,” Nydom said. “I’m small, but I’ve got a good swing.”

HIANG team captain 1st Sgt. Danny Hiyama is presented the championship trophy.

Nydom also set the table for Ventura in the top of the third by picking up a leadoff single.

Ventura then followed with a long smash that flew over the left-field fence with plenty of room to spare to kick-start the HIANG after the team recorded their only scoreless inning in the top of the second.

In the team’s merry-go-round, the HIANG powerful batting order saw a total of nine players drive in runs.

Capt. BJ Kalaiki got things started by lining a single in the first inning with the bases loaded.

Then, after Ventura, Tech. Sgt. Paki Victorino and Staff Sgt. Kalani Souza raised the lead to 8-0 with four runs in the top of the third, and HIANG exploded for eight runs in the top of the fourth to put the game away for good.

Senior Airman Darby Ventura goes deep with a shot over the left-field fence.

In the fourth, HIANG batted around the order with nine hits and got RBIs by Nydom, Kalaiki, Staff Sgt. Eugene Winchester, Tyren Takasawa, whose dad, Master Sgt. Lance Takasawa, went twofor-two with a walk, and pitcher Airman 1st Class Senio Slawson, who had two hits in the inning.

While the bats were hot throughout the lineup, Slawson was handcuffing PHNSY batters, going the full four innings without allowing a run.

Slawson set down PHNSY in order in the first inning, before giving up only three hits, all singles, for the entire four innings.

“My approach was to jam them inside,” Slawson said. “We just would stack the left side and just keep jamming them all day. Our infield was so spectacular, making play after play. I give them all the credit.”

Hiyama said that of all the championships that he has been a part of as a member of the HIANG squad, this one is the sweetest because he admits that the core group of players is getting older, with most of them in their 40s.

Still, Hiyama said that while the win is the fulfillment of the team’s goal, he and the players wouldn’t have time to relish the crown. The HIANG must now prepare for the 52nd Annual Air National Guard softball tournament, which will be held from Aug. 16 to 20.

He said that he hopes the team uses the momentum gained from winning the Joint Base trophy to come out on top at the tournament, which will be played at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Then once the team returns, Hiyama said the HIANG would look forward to defending their title next season. “Every year is a thought about repeat,” he said. “Next year might be hard because of TDYs, so this is the year we had to win.”

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Category: Sports