KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe’s game plan was to play small ball against Ka‘u. The Waveriders executed the strategy to perfection, downing the Trojans 16-6 and racking up 19 steals and 17 hits Saturday at Kealakehe High School’s baseball field.
“We have a ton of speed out there,” Kealakehe head coach Josh Hansen said. “I have faith in the kids that they are learning how to run the bases with their eyes and gaining the ability to read those balls in the dirt. I put a lot of trust in them.”
Senior Zaynan Sanchez recorded the opening day victory, striking out three and allowing just a single hit in one inning pitched. Sanchez also had a solid performance slugging, going 3-for-6, including a standup triple and two RBIs.
Kealakehe’s Pohaku Dela Cruz had the most successful day swinging that bat, going 4-for-5 and recording four runs. Keoki Meyers added a inside the park home run and Sage Valenzuela tallied three RBIs.
“We got production from the one through nine spots in the lineup. Everybody contributed,” Hansen said. “We are still learning the game and where we have to be in certain situations.”
Ka‘u did not play any preseason games, so Saturday was the first live action for the young Trojans squad, which features six freshmen.
Chance Emmsley-Ah Yee took the loss for Ka‘u, pitching 1 1/3 innings and allowing four earned runs. Kihei Serrao was the most productive Trojan at the plate, batting 1-for-3 with two RBIs.
“The boys got the jitters out after that first inning,” said Ka‘u head coach Kaleo Phillips. “We have a lot of freshman so we are learning on the fly. They did pretty well today.”
Kealakehe took an early seven-run lead in the first inning, capitalizing on four walks and multiple errors by Ka‘u. The opportunity allowed Hansen to tinker with his lineup and test out a few things.
The Waveriders used four different pitchers — Sanchez for the first inning, and then Shaeden Lewi, Marcus Degrate and Meyers the rest of the way. Each pitcher showed off particular styles and gave the Kealakehe staff and idea of what to expect during the season.
The steady Lewi allowed one hit and struck out three in three innings pitched. Degrate started out shaky by hitting the first batter he saw, but recovered by striking out five in two innings pitched. Meyers sealed the contest in the seventh with two strikeouts and one hit.
Kealakehe is still working on the finer points of the game and were victim of a few rookie mistakes. On one play, two runners ended up on second base after a pop out, resulting in a double play. In another instance, a batter was unclear on running to first after an uncaught third strike, getting tagged out nearly 15 seconds after his at-bat.
“Communication was one of the big things for us today,” Hansen said. “Between innings the older players were coaching up the younger ones and they all stayed focus for seven good innings.”
For Ka‘u, just taking the field felt like a win. The Trojans did not field a team last season due to lack of numbers and have been enthusiastic to be back out on the diamond.
“This a big turning point for us,” Phillips said. “This was the first time we saw actual runners and live pitches. We know we have a lot to work on. We have just four or five kids who have played high school baseball before. It’s a work in progress.”
Serrao is one of the few players on the Trojan squad with solid experience. The senior is a jack-of-all-trades for Ka‘u and will be used all over the field this season. Against Kealakehe, he played in the infield, pitched and caught.
The veteran leader steadied his team when he took the mound in the second inning. With one out and runners on third and second, Serrao struck out the next two batters to end the inning. He finished with a game-high six strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work.
“He’s our best player right now and our leader,” Phillips said. “He grew up with a baseball in his hand and we can use him at every position. The team rallies around him.”
Phillips knows every game will be a learning experience, but expects his team to be competitive in Division II. “Our defense played well once they adjusted to the game and weren’t flabbergasted,” Phillips said. “In the next few games our pitching will improve and the boy’s arms will start gaining more stamina. I expect us to compete.”
For Kealakehe, the task at hand now is hosting a tough Waiakea squad Wednesday.
“We play one game at a time, but as soon as we got this one they were telling me that they are ready to get at Waiakea,” Hansen said. “We will get in a good couple good days of practice and see where the cards fall.”
Ka‘u has a bye until March 22 when the team visits Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
KEAL. 711 200 5 — 16 17 5
KA‘U 100 030 2 — 6 8 13
Konawaena 13, Pahoa 1: Kea Miyahira-Young picked up the win while Royce Torres-Torioka, Evyn Yamaguchi and Koa Basque provided the offense for the Wildcats (1-0).
Torres-Torioka had two hits while Yamaguchi and Basque had two RBIs each for last season’s BIIF Division II runner-up.
Luis Belez took the loss and Troy Raffe relieved for the Daggers (0-1).
It was Pahoa’s first home game on the school’s campus in 6 1/2 years.
“The field is looking really good,” Daggers coach Scott Salfren said. “We’ve finally got the drainage fixed. We’ve got a batting cage and bullpen. We’re making a good headway to be a successful program. We’ve got the things to be competitive on the high school level. But we’ll see how it goes from here.”
KONA 802 03 — 13 13 1
PAHOA 000 01 — 1 3 7
Keaau at Kohala: The opener was postponed by rain in Kapaau and was rescheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.