Kohala doesn’t have a lot of experience on the baseball diamond, but coach Pono Nakamura believes enthusiasm and potential can take his team a long way.
The Cowboys have had a challenging start to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season, playing three Division I teams while holding tight to a good vibe that surrounds the program.
On Saturday, Caleb Freitas-Fields fired a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts as Waiakea defeated Kohala 7-2 in a BIIF game at the Warriors’ field.
The Warriors (2-0) remained unbeaten but face Hawaii Prep, a Division II title contender, Wednesday on the road then play Kamehameha on Friday at Wong Stadium.
Gehrig Octavio batted 3 for 4 with four RBIs while Freitas-Fields, Devin Iwahashi and Tyler Aburamen had two hits each for Waiakea.
Ricky Ching pitched 1 1/3 scorless innings, and Tate Fernandez went 4 1/3 innings in the loss.
Austin Salvador-Racoma and Willy Perez each had an RBI for the Cowboys (1-2), who upset Keaau 4-3 last Saturday and fell to Hilo 13-3 on Wednesday.
Kohala has only five seniors — catcher Perez, pitcher Ricky Ching, outfielder Dalyn Higa, first baseman Troy Castillo, Keanu Kainoa and Kahuliau Kaai.
For the first time in a long time, the small school in Kapaau (enrollment in the neighborhood of 270) has depth, a roster of 20 and competition at every position. A dozen players were promoted from the junior varsity, providing the positives of youth and depth.
But even better the third-year coach appreciates the team harmony and direction his leaders are providing. The Cowboys have a pair of co-captains in Perez and Ching, and a model of dedication in sophomore second baseman Kainalu Emeliano-Solomon, who also pitches.
“Willy has the most power and he’s a leader behind the plate,” Nakamura said. “It’s Willy and Ricky who keep pushing everybody. Ricky has a great mindset. He’s my eyes when I’m not watching something at practice. The discipline stays in check. At practice, the kids are preaching accountability.
“A lot of the kids grew up playing together. They’ve got talent. We’ve got to polish it on the field. They’re all together, half are hunters and half are surfers. Everybody is either at the beach together on in the mountains. They’re all in it with each other.”
There’s youth everywhere among the returning starters. Emeliano-Solomon and shortstop Chance Pang, and third baseman Salvador-Racoma are sophomores while Perez is a junior.
The pitching staff is blend of both. Left-hander Fernandez, who also plays first base, is just a freshman while Ching is a senior.
Even the new starters are underclassmen: junior outfielders Daylan Kupukaa and Kealen Figueroa, and freshman infielder Steven Medeiros.
If there’s one constant for the Cowboys it’s that a Nakamura will be at the ballpark. The family tradition started with Pono’s dad Steve Nakamura, who coached for 13 years, along with his brothers Tommy and Guy Nakamura.
Baseball has always taken a backseat to basketball, the king of sport at Kohala. Since statewide classification in 2007, the Cowboys, under Don Fernandez, have won four BIIF Division II titles, the most of any school.
But for Emeliano-Solomon, his No. 1 sport is baseball. His double-play partner, Pang, and Figueroa were on the basketball squad.
“He’s a real good basketball player, but he came out for JV baseball and his hard work was well worth it,” Nakamura said. “You can see it on the field. His hitting, footwork, range all took a notch up. His arm got stronger. For him to give up basketball, especially after they won the BIIF title, that was a big ego blow. But he’s got heart and talent.”
Kohala’s good vibe extends beyond the ballclub. Nakamura noticed that there’s more fan interest. He credited his supportive parents and the team-first attitude of his Cowboys.
“When we played Hilo there was a lot of people at the ballpark and they were happy with what they saw,” Nakamura said. “People can see the change. We have a momentum and vibe. They’re all in it together.
“From the starters to all 20, even the guys who travel and don’t play much, the best part is that they’re working together. They all have that competitive fire and passion. That’s the best thing for us.”
Kohala 000 011 0 — 2 2 5
Waiakea 140 020 x — 7 12 4
Hawaii Prep 17, Ka‘u 0: Koa Ellis struck out 10 and threw a four-inning no-hitter with two walks spoiling a perfect game.
Ian Rice batted 3 for 5 with four RBIs, DJ Sekiya 3 for 3 with three RBIs and Ellis went 1 for 1 with two RBIS and three runs scored to lead Ka Makani (2-0).
The Trojans fell to 0-2.
HPA 203 (12) — 17 11 0
Ka‘u 000 0 — 0 0 4
Kealakehe 14, Pahoa 5: Marcus Degrate got the win for the Waveriders on the mound, pitching 3 2/3 innings, allowing five runs, six hits and striking out seven batters. Shaden Lewi tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings, and KT Abraham contributed one shutout inning.
Freshman Hunter Cuaresma was 3 of 4 from the plate with 3 RBIs. Chermie Arnold, Pohaku Dela Cruz, Zaynan Sanchez, Duke Tamaye and Dustin Waiau each contributed one hit and an RBI, as the Waveriders (2-1) racked up 12 hits against the Daggers (0-3).
“It was a good win for us,” Kealakehe head coach Josh Hansen said. “Moving into this week with games against Kamehameha and Konawaena we need to work on minimizing our defensive mistakes and do a better job throwing first pitch strikes.”
The Keaau at Honokaa game was rained out and will be rescheduled for 3 p.m. Monday.