Mykala Tokunaga is back and will be a refined ace in the softball circle for Kamehameha, which will be fishing for firepower on offense with the loss of six starters.
At least coach Gary Ahu doesn’t have to worry about pitching for the foreseeable future. In softball, most times one pitcher is enough because there’s less wear on the arm with the underhand delivery.
Tokunaga is only a sophomore. The Warriors are the two-time defending BIIF champion. They haven’t hit their growth spurt yet.
“We’re young but we’ve still got four or five with experience,” Ahu said. “We’ll be strong with pitching and defense. I think we’ll be tough with our infield defense. We’re working on our outfield.”
The general theory in softball is there’s no better combination than pitching and defense. A dominant pitcher, especially one who throws hard, can always work around a team’s inexperience, racking up strikeouts to limit defensive attempts.
That will be the job description for Tokunaga, who is also a two-for-one deal as a dual threat. She was the BIIF Division II Player of the Year as a freshman pitcher, after winning all her team’s games and batting .500 with two homers and 25 RBIs.
“We’ve implemented more movement with her pitches, and Mykala’s working on a curveball and riser,” Kamehameha assistant Derek Lincoln said. “Her pitching motion, release point, everything stayed the same. She’s learning to use more of a wrist snap, use her legs more and twisting her hips. Last year, she was at 56 mph. She’s topping out at 59, 60 mph now.
“She had one of the greatest pitching coaches in Kaha Wong. He did a great job with her. He was our best pitcher in fast-pitch softball. We’d beat Japan and Canada because he could hold them down to one or two runs. I’m fine-tuning her.”
Converted to a baseball’s velocity, a softball fastball at 60 mph would be about 85 mph. More mustard on Tokunaga’s fastball will be tough enough. Then there’s her better movement with a few additional pitches as extra weapons.
Last season, the Warriors were the best team in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation with a 12-0 record in what could best be described as an unusual scheduling format.
The Warriors finished 16-1 overall and Tokunaga’s only loss was to Hilo in the first round, which didn’t count in the league standings. Last year, coaches complained that the first-round games were basically dress rehearsal exhibitions or as one put it bluntly, “a waste of time.”
That’s not the case anymore with the East and West sides joining hands and playing each other. When that happens, the BIIF regular-season champion earns the first berth if the league has two spots to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
The BIIF has had three spots to the Division II state tournament the last eight years and has shared seats. Kamehameha has gone six times during that span, same as Konawaena. Kohala is tops with seven trips while Pahoa has qualified three times and Honokaa twice.
Tokunaga is the second impact pitcher in school history. Kiani Wong, a 2012 Kamehameha graduate, was player of the year as a freshman and a three-time first-team pick.
The Warriors really haven’t had an impact freshman bat since catcher Kozy Toriano, a four-time first-team selection from 2004 to ‘07, who sparked the program to BIIF Division II titles in 2006 and ‘07.
She later played at Hawaii Pacific, which captured the NCAA Division II national championship in 2010, Toriano’s junior season. That year, she hit .305 with 34 RBIs and made the conference’s first team.
At long last, Kamehameha may have finally found a potent freshman bat in second baseman and leadoff hitter Kiarra Lincoln, assistant coach Derek Lincoln’s daughter. She batted .611 (11 of 18) during a preseason tournament on Kauai. Sophomore shortstop Makena Wagner was next at .523 (11 of 21).
“Kiarra and Makena hit good on Kauai,” Ahu said. “Kiarra is small (5 feet and 95 pounds), but she’s strong. Makena has matured from last year. She played defense last year and on Kauai was one of our top hitters.”
Wagner saw limited time last season, but will get a shot at a full-time job. Besides Tokunaga, the only other returning players are senior first baseman Gayla Ha-Cabebe, who made the second team, and sophomore catcher Kekai Wong Yuen.
The other starters are junior third baseman and No. 2 pitcher Samantha Simmons, who got a handful of playing time, and center fielder Jaysha Alonzo-Estrada, right fielder Elexis Emmesley and left fielder Kaila Kaaihue.
“Kekai came out from soccer and Tokunaga worked hard during the summer,” Ahu said. “Her ball has more movement and she’s throwing a curveball.”
Though the Warriors will be the front-runner for the Division II title, Ahu is cautiously optimistic. He’ll wait until Kamehameha concludes its opener at Honokaa on Saturday to put his approval stamp of high potential on his young team.
“We’ll wait until the season comes around on Saturday. Then we’ll know what we’re made of,” he said.