By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kian Kurokawa doesn’t throw as hard as Kealakehe flame-thrower Teao Buehler, but the Hilo senior right-hander was far more dominant, pitching with better precision and working his way out of trouble like someone well-versed in big-game experience.
Kurokawa fired a four-hitter and outdueled Buehler to lift the Vikings past the Waveriders 8-0 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I semifinals on Friday night at Wong Stadium, clinching a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament for the fifth straight year.
Hilo (7-3 BIIF, 11-3 overall) will play Waiakea (8-2, 11-3) at 5:30 p.m. today at Wong for the BIIF Division I championship.
Kurokawa allowed only four singles, one walk in his last frame and struck out seven, stranding seven runners on base and frustrating the Waveriders (4-6, 6-8) for the second straight year. In the BIIF semifinals last year, Kurokawa beat them and a host of other top teams during Hilo’s magical run to a third-place finish at the Division I state tournament.
“That kid is a legitimate college pitcher,” Hilo coach Tony DeSa said of Kurokawa, who’ll pitch at Puget Sound. “He threw his fastball inside and kept them off-balance. They couldn’t get good swings and he jammed them. It’s a simple game when you pitch to contact and hit your spots.”
Last season, he defeated Campbell 6-5 in a state play-in game and scattered a seven-hitter to upset Punahou 5-3 in the first round of the state tourney. Kurokawa went 2-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 21 2/3 innings during league play and landed on the All-BIIF first team on the strength of his efforts against the league’s powers, pitching tough against Waiakea and Kamehameha.
“That really helped me a lot, knowing what to expect,” Kurokawa said. “It prepares me a little more. Everyone is high intensity, but I’ve learned how to block it out.
“It’s a great feeling going to states. I wanted to do this for the team. Most of the seniors we’ve played together as little kids. It’s a good feeling to go in our last year. My year has been a little up and down. But coach DeSa has been working us hard and wants us to peak at the right time. I think we’re doing that now.”
Though he cranks up his heater to the upper 80-mph range, Buehler was not overpowering, but effective early, holding Hilo hitless through the first three innings. The book on the hard-throwing right-hander is to wait him out until the walks pile up.
But the Vikings took the opposite approach in the fourth when they scored five runs on four hits and one walk, often attacking early with swings on the first pitch. Cleanup hitter Makana Josue-Maa, a transfer from Castle, got things started when he drew a full-count walk.
Then Elijah Cruz reached on an error, and Jalen Carvalho pulled a 1-1 pitch into right field to break the scoreless pitching duel. Drew Kell bunted for a single on the first pitch. Micah Kaaukai ripped the first pitch he saw for a sacrifice fly, and Beeno Banasan didn’t waste any time either, getting a two-run double on the first pitch. Tyler Higa-Gonsalves capped the rally with a first-pitch RBI single.
“We had clutch hitting,” DeSa said. “Jalen, Beeno and Tyler all clutched up. When you do that, the sky’s the limit.”
In six innings, Buehler gave up eight hits, walked two and struck out two. He didn’t really beat himself with walks; only one run scored off a free pass. He did throw three wild pitches, which led to a run.
No matter how hard he threw, when he put a mistake over the middle of the plate the Vikings were waiting and pounced.
Meanwhile, the Waveriders had several golden scoring opportunities, putting runners in scoring position in the second and fifth innings. But twice they came up empty, unable to put a dent into Kurokawa, who escaped the second-inning threat with a comebacker and a flyout. In the fifth, Markus DeGrate and Keith Pabre, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, both singled, but Kurokawa induced a groundout and followed with two strikeouts.
Higa-Gonsalves batted 2 for 3 with two RBIs, Carvalho 2 for 3 with an RBI while Kaaukai and Banasan each added two RBIs.
As Hilo’s catcher, Chayce Kaaua got a good closeup look at Kurokawa’s gem.
“He was good and on point,” said Kaaua, who batted 1 for 4. “He hit his spots and threw it right where I put my glove.”
Kealakehe 000 000 0 — 0 4 2
Hilo 000 530 x — 8 8 2