By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
From the windup, Hilo pitcher Kody Kaniho takes a huge shoulder turn, flashing the No. 23 on the back of his jersey to the batter while generating the arm torque and hip rotation that add extra mustard to his fastball.
“That’s where I get most of my power, from turning,” the senior right-hander said.
The downside, when his balance is a bit off or the delivery is not a carbon copy of the one before, is sometimes it’s a chore to find his release point and his fastball command disappears.
But when he gets in a groove and everything is flowing in the right direction Kaniho can put up dominant numbers. And sometimes even when he can’t paint corners with his fastball, he’s still too tough to hit.
Kaniho fired a two-hitter and the Vikings defeated Kamehameha 3-1 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation baseball game Tuesday night, showing an energetic Wong Stadium crowd that power pitching can erase a lot of mistakes and keep a team in the ballgame when nothing seems to go right.
“Kody was unbelievable,” Hilo coach Tony DeSa said. “He can bring it. He has a strong arm and a strong body. Everything is in sync for him this year and falling into place for him.”
Kaniho finished with superb numbers: seven innings, one run on two hits and two walks with six strikeouts, including whiffing the side in the seventh, on just 89 pitches for the complete-game gem.
The Vikings (4-2 BIIF Division I, 7-2 overall) scored all of their runs in the seventh inning when Jalen Carvalho and Kian Kurokawa sparked the rally with back-to-back singles against reliever Bronson Pulgados. Drew Kell reached on an error, bringing in the first run. One batter later, Tyler Higa-Gonsalves roped a first-pitch hanging changeup for an RBI double, and Kell eventually scored on a balk.
Jodd Carter went 2 for 3, Makana Josue-Maa 2 for 4 and Higa-Gonsalves 1 for 2 with an RBI to lead Hilo, which plays a tuneup against Waiakea on Thursday night at Wong Stadium. It’s a first-round game between East Hawaii teams and won’t count in the BIIF standings.
The Warriors (4-1 BIIF Division II, 6-3 overall) manufactured their lone run without the benefit of a basehit. In the fourth, Bronson Pulgados was hit by a pitch, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. He scored on Jordan Hirae’s RBI squeeze bunt groundout. Daylen Calicadan and Matt Chun had infield singles for Kamehameha’s only hits.
The game wasn’t only entertaining. It also painted a portrait of the two teams.
Aggressive could be one adjective to describe the Vikings, especially on the basepaths and at the plate. The hitters take their hacks. Against Kamehameha starter Kupono Decker, who went five scoreless innings in a no-decision, the offense saw only 59 pitches.
That number drops substantially if you take away Hilo leadoff hitter Higa-Gonsalves’ first two at-bats. He took seven pitches and got beaned in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, the senior second baseman drew a full-count walk for six pitches.
That’s no big deal if basehits are falling all over the place. Hits are just as good as walks or the other way around. But getting runners on base wasn’t Hilo’s problem; at least one runner was on base in every inning.
The Vikings were overly eager (perhaps, the bad side of being aggressive) on the bases and the Warriors showed a lot of defensive savvy, picking off runners or throwing them out. Four times — in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings — a Viking runner was thrown out on the bases, three times trying to steal, including twice in scoring position. In the second inning, a runner was gunned down by Kamehameha first baseman Paka Davis attempting to advance to third on a bunt single.
“We got too anxious,” DeSa said. “But I’m happy that our guys picked each other up (in the seventh). We battled, worked our counts, got our pitches and made terrific contact. It was a good series of at-bats for Jalen, Kuro, and Tyler.”
Decker put up nice numbers: five innings, no runs, four hits, one walk and one strikeout. However, his outing was far from smooth sailing, but he did his part, keeping his team in the ballgame. The Warriors led 1-0 heading into the seventh, despite scratching only two infield singles.
Meanwhile, for most of the game, Kaniho couldn’t consistently throw his fastball for strikes, but that’s the benefit of throwing hard. Sometimes a hitter swings and misses; a swinging strike is just as good as a called one and the other way around.
His stats don’t state the he lacked fastball command, but he had a three-ball count on eight batters. His free pass total could have been ugly. But he battled and walked only two.
Besides his perseverance, Kaniho’s other great weapon turned out to be his curveball, thrown hard with sharp diagonal break. He found it in the second with one out, and dropped four straight hammers, getting a pair of strikeouts to end the inning. Even better, he got both punchouts from the stretch with a runner on second.
It was still early, but at least there was no harm done and the game remained scoreless.
“My curveball, I was releasing it and finding my touch with it,” Kaniho said. “I was more consistent with it. In the seventh, I got all my strikeouts on two-seam fastballs. I was more comfortable with it than in the first inning.”
After Decker departed, Pulgados entered in the sixth. Both senior right-handers are similar. They don’t throw hard. Pulgados gave up three runs, one unearned, on five hits in two innings for the loss.
When Decker was on the mound, Hilo hit the ball, often hard and Kamehameha needed to be solid on defense. When anything ventured in third baseman Pulgados’ territory he made play after play. He recorded five putouts, including firing two bullets to first to gun down speedy runners Drew Kell and Micah Kaaukai with a runner on third in the fifth inning.
Unfortunately for Pulgados, when he was on the bump, the Vikings hit the ball for basehits. That’s the value of having a flame-thrower like Kaniho. A strikeout is the best defensive weapon because the ball has no chance of finding a hole.
It’s something Kamehameha coach Andy Correa understands.
“We don’t have a guy who strikes people out,” Correa said. “I would rather go with a guy like Bronson instead of a someone who will walk the house. He’s got confidence.
“Our kids know they have to be resourceful. We had a tough time adjusting to Kody. But leading 1-0 into the seventh with two hits, I’ll take that anytime. The kids did a terrific job, getting out of innings and executing. They kept us in the game.”
The same could be said about Kaniho, who demonstrated that the best way to beat someone is to put extra mustard on a fastball and don’t let them hit the ball.
Hilo 000 000 3 — 3 9 0
Kamehameha 000 100 0 — 1 2 1