Waiakea senior left-hander Kodi Medeiros has a lot of confidence in his slider, not only with its sweeping across-the-plate movement to miss bats, but also his command to hit a bull’s-eye strike on the inside corner only inches away from an opposing hitter.
When Medeiros hits a batter, it’s usually with his slider because it has the most action among all of his pitches: fastball, cut-fastball, and changeup. Also, opponents are employing the strategy of standing on top of the plate to take away the outside corner, and get a free pass if they’re beaned.
On Friday night in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation baseball game that drew a sizable crowd at Wong Stadium, Hilo’s hitters showed not a hint of being intimidated by Medeiros’ 94-mph fastball and wicked slider, hugging the plate and daring him to throw inside.
One such player was Vikings sophomore second baseman Noah Higa-Gonsalves, who goes to Kaha Wong’s hitting school. And like most of Wong’s pupils, Higa-Gonsalves has a short, direct-to-the-ball swing path, giving him a fighting chance to hit all types of hard stuff.
And if there’s one adjective to describe the 5-foot-3, 130-pound Higa-Gonsalves, who went 1 for 2, it’s feisty. His high energy shadows him, even in night games. His short swing and eagerness to battle at the plate turn him into a tough out as Hilo’s No. 8 hitter.
Medeiros against Higa-Gonsalves would become one subplot among many in a drama-filled Division I showdown that saw the Warriors prevail over the Vikings 2-1, leapfrogging into first place in the BIIF standings.
“My stuff was good. I tried to pound the strike zone and work every pitch and hit my spots,” said Medeiros, who whiffed 14. “My cut-fastball was a good get over for a strike first pitch. Then I would put them away with my slider or cutter.
“I didn’t throw too many straight fastball because they hugged the plate and were going to go opposite field.”
Waiakea (7-1) is in the driver’s seat for the outright BIIF regular-season championship, which includes an automatic berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
Hilo (5-2-1), the defending league champion, closes its season with Hawaii Prep on Monday and Pahoa on Wednesday, then is off until the four-team BIIF playoffs, which start Saturday, April 26.
Both teams threw their aces, who pitched complete-game gems. Medeiros and Hilo starter Jalen Carvalho were dominant and effective in their own fashion. Medeiros racked up 14 strikeouts; Carvalho relied on his defense, which fell apart in the pivotal fifth inning.
That’s when Waiakea outfielder Matt Camacho singled off Carvalho, took second on a sacrifice and stayed there after Gehrig Octavio walked. Then Tyler Aburamen clubbed a grounder up the middle that was misplayed for an error, and raced past an outfielder for another miscue.
Two errors on one play led to two unearned runs and a 2-1 lead for the Warriors, who stranded five runners on base. Hilo left six on base, including the sacks full in the sixth — the highlight of the game (more on that in a moment).
The Vikings manufactured a run in the third on a lot of plate discipline, a dash of speed and a bit of timely hitting with Jodd Carter and Carvalho.
Carter provided the first two ingredients when he worked a 2-1 hitter’s count, singled off a fastball and stole second. Carvalho took Medeiros to a 2-2 count, and didn’t miss when he got a cutter he could handle.
His sharp single up the middle staked Hilo to a 1-0 lead, a small measure of consolation for a missed room-service scoring opportunity in the first inning.
The Vikings couldn’t have ordered a better scenario when Isaiah Banasan led the game off with a walk and Micah Kaaukai doubled to put both runners in scoring position.
However, Medeiros locked in and struck out the heart of Hilo’s batting order: No. 3 hitter Carter on a slider, cleanup hitter Carvalho on a cutter and No. 5 batter Noah Serrao on another slider, Medeiros’ main weapon of choice.
Medeiros fired a five-hitter, walked one, struck out 14, and finished with 114 pitches. He was backed by a flawless defense. Also his catcher, Aburamen, who gunned down a steal attempt, had no passed balls and Medeiros had zero wild pitches, another clue to his pinpoint control, in addition to his lone walk.
“I trusted my defense, especially Abu. He’s really shown a lot of progress,” Medeiros said. “He’s improved a lot, anticipating my fastball when it’s tailing out of the strike zone and moving his feet.”
Carvalho went six innings and took a hard-luck loss. The senior right-hander gave up two unearned runs on four hits and three walks, and whiffed six. His defense committed five errors, including two that brought in the tying and go-ahead runs.
“There was superb pitching and it was a wonderful game,” Hilo coach Tony De Sa said. “Kodi is electric when he gets his breaking ball over. He was tough but our kids battled.
“When Jalen pitches ahead in the count, he’s tough to beat. But we’ve got to help him and play better defense behind him.”
Though Carvalho is most known for his basketball skills, especially a smooth left-handed jump shot, he brings a solid hitting skill-set to the plate. He’s balanced, which means he rarely takes an awkward stroke, has good plate coverage and protects the dish down in the count.
Carvalho was late on Medeiros’ cutter in the first. In his other two at-bats, he had perfect timing — the key to hitting — staying right on the ball. Upsetting timing is a key to pitching too.
“Jalen did a hell of a job, mixing his pitches up, changing speeds,” Waiakea coach Jensen Sato said. “Kodi clearly showed a lot of heart. Nothing fazed him. He was great, mixing his pitches. It was fun to watch.”
Carvalho batted 2 for 3 with an RBI, the only hitter in the game to pair hits. In the sixth, he hit a high chopper to third base and beat Taylor Mondina’s throw to first.
That sixth inning was a firestorm for the Viking faithful.
After Carvalho singled, Serrao was hit by a pitch and Conrad Kauffman sacrificed both into scoring position. With two out, freshman Joey Jarneski came off bench cold to pinch hit, but he was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Then up stepped Higa-Gonsalves, who stood inches away from home plate but fell into an 0-2 hole. Aburamen set up inside and Medeiros whipped a slider that Higa-Gonsalves swung at and missed before the ball hit him.
It was ruled a strikeout, not a hit by pitch, which results in a dead ball, and ended the bases-loaded threat.
A few breaks fell Waiakea’s way. But on a night that pitching from both sides sparkled, Medeiros struck out 14 and his teammates provided just enough run support.
“Our kids competed all the way,” Sato said. “We struck with it and stayed patient, and came out on top.”
Hilo 001 000 0 — 1 5 4
Waiakea 000 020 x — 2 4 0