By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
There’s a different feeling this season for Waiakea softball.
For once, the Warriors aren’t the favorites, not after Hilo ended their reign as five-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I champions.
And Bo Saiki’s 2013 team isn’t as polished as some of his others.
“They don’t have experience like my past teams,” Saiki said. “They were experienced, so we never worked on small, itty-bitty things. More teaching (this year). A lot of work.”
But while Waiakea may be a little rough around the edges, it holds plenty of promise. The roster has an intriguing blend of established veterans and up-and-coming underclassmen.
The senior leaders are slugging catcher Ariana Mareko and middle infielders/pitchers Brandi Maximo and Alexis Anzai. The latter two will be tasked with replacing Chelsea Camello, the team’s ace the past two years. Anzai, a second baseman, has some experience in the circle heading into the Warriors’ opener at 3 p.m. today at home against Pahoa (0-1).
“We just really need them to throw strikes,” Saiki said.
Skyler Agrigado-Togafau, last season’s BIIF East Player of the Year, and her seven home runs will be missed, but Mareko figures to wield one of the most powerful bats on the island. She and Maximo, who will play shortstop when she doesn’t pitch, anchor the middle of a lineup that Saiki thinks has the potential to score runs.
“Ariana is bigger and stronger,” he said. “(Beyond her), we still have a little pop; but it’s not home runs, it’s more doubles.”
Senior Chelsey Ah Sui didn’t play last year but she has varsity experience and will take over for Agrigado-Togafau at third. The other two likely starters on the infield are freshmen Taylor Nishimura and Taylor Ogawa. Nishimura will fill in for whoever pitches, and Ogawa will play first base. Both have club softball experience.
Junior Cheylee Octavio brings speed to the lineup whether she bats at the top or bottom of the order, and she’ll be joined in the outfield by sophomore Jayla Costa and junior Kaelee Carvalho.
Saiki brought up seven players from the junior varsity team, including fleet-footed freshman Kyleigh Kahala-Giron.
His fifth senior, Melissa Tubera, was used at designated player when Waiakea went to Mililani’s preseason tournament.
Saiki didn’t have big expectations on Oahu, but he was disappointed in his team’s fielding, saying it’s imperative that Waiakea make plays behind its pitcher.
“We’ll be OK if we keep our errors down,” he said.
Saiki called Hilo the clear front-runner in Division I, and while he sees Keaau and Waiakea as comparable, he cited Cougars sophomore pitcher Lohi Kamakea-Wong a difference-maker.
However, Saiki was encouraged that his JV team was able to get to Keaau’s ace in a recent game, winning 19-18.
“I don’t know why, but we hit her,” he said with a laugh. “Our varsity kids should be able to hit her, too.”