By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
With his good size and live arm, Caleb Freitas-Fields showed promise as a pitcher long before he ever put on a Waiakea uniform.
To Warriors coach Kevin Yee, the next progression was only natural.
The freshman right-hander flashed his ace-like potential in his high school baseball debut on the mound Friday night, throwing six shutout innings in a 3-1 victory against Keaau at Wong Stadium.
“It felt good,” Freitas-Fields said, “but I’m only a freshman and I was really surprised.”
Perhaps he shouldn’t have been.
Featuring the same fastball and curveball that helped make him an accomplished pitcher at the PONY League level, Freitas-Fields struck out nine without walking a batter and allowed only two hits for the Warriors (1-1 Big Island Interscholastic Federation, 3-1 overall).
The only thing missing from his first prep start was a complete game. He was pulled after retiring the side in order in the sixth inning.
“I felt fine. I could have gone a couple more innings,” Freitas-Fields said. “It was kind of sad, though. I wanted to finish.”
He’ll have plenty of more opportunities to do that for the new-look defending Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I champions, who have just three returning starters and could use a go-to arm to count on. Junior Kodi Medeiros, last year’s strong No. 2 behind graduated ace Quintin Torres-Costa, has been relegated to playing the field so far this season.
“As far as an ace right now, it’s everybody,” Yee said. “We have a lot of pitchers. A lot of guys that can throw, but we don’t have a lot of guys on paper that can throw firm. Probably Caleb and Kodi are the two guys that can throw firm.”
Back when he was 5-foot-10 in the summer of 2011, Freitas-Fields already threw hard and was dominant in pitching an 11- and 12-year-old Hilo team to a state PONY League championship.
Now, he’s 6-0, throws even faster and is looking to work a changeup into his repertoire.
“You can see the difference from when we first started with (Caleb) until know,” Yee said. “(Assistant coach) Cody Urasaki has done a great job with him cleaning up his mechanics. We’re looking for him to peak at BIIFs and be a little sharper. He’s headed in the right direction if he continues to work hard.”
Senior Aaron Nishiura was 3 for 3 for Waiakea, which had eight hits — including a surprise bunt that No. 3 hitter Kean Wong laid down to help fuel a two-run rally in the third inning.
Freshman Keian Kanetani pitched well for the Division I Cougars (1-1, 1-2), but he fell into trouble when the Warriors loaded the bases in the third on two walks and the two-out bunt single by Wong, a senior catcher who’s already signed to play at the University of Hawaii.
“That was all him,” Yee said. “He has that as part of his game. He’s got a lot of baseball savvy, know-how and timing. He looks to the team first and tries to get on base and do what’s best for the team.”
After senior Andy Filoteo drew a base on balls, Medeiros delivered a two-run single to center give Waiakea a 3-0 lead.
A Keaau error opened the door for Filoteo’s RBI hit in the first inning. Senior Alika Guillermo scored two runs.
Cougars senior Keha Wong walked leading off the seventh against Filoteo and scored on an error. Filoteo, a senior, finished off the save, allowing an unearned run and two walks.
Wong and senior Jonathan Segovia had the Cougars’ only hits. Kanetani yielded three runs — two earned — eight hits and three walks.
The Warriors have bounced back with two straight wins after Hawaii Prep dealt the program its first defeat since 2011 with a 3-2 win at Waiakea on March 16.
“It was my fault for the loss,” Yee said, “because I didn’t give them a sense of direction where we were going.”
With that in mind, he made each Waiakea player write down three individual goals last week in practice.
“Because individual goals will help us collectively as a team,” Yee said.
Along with a .300 batting average and a .990 fielding percentage at first base, one of Freitas-Fields’ goals was to try and throw no more than 11 pitches each inning. Thanks in part to ability to throw pitches that missed Keaau bats, that objective narrowly escaped him a few times during his 72-pitch effort.
“I need to work on the changeup, keep my fastball and get my arm stronger,” he said.
Keaau 000 000 1 —1 2 1
Waiakea 102 000 x —3 8 3