Competition brings out the best in competitors, and that’s been the case with Konawaena, which often finds itself playing musical chairs on the diamond with Hawaii Prep.
Kamehameha has had a monopoly on the BIIF Division II championship for the last six years and has little worry about making early flight reservations for the HHSAA tournament.
At first glance, it’s easy to rank Kamehameha, Konawaena, and HPA as 1-2-3 in terms of success at the BIIF and state levels.
Since statewide classification in 2008, the Warriors have seven BIIF titles, seven state trips and one state title in 2016. (Kamehameha joined Division II in 2010.) The Wildcats won the league crown in 2011 and have eight state appearances. Ka Makani captured the BIIF championship in 2009 and has six state trips.
Under former Konawaena coaches Lloyd Fujino and Dave Distel (2013-14), and current coach Adam Tabieros, the program has been very competitive.
At states, the Wildcats have never reached the state semifinals, but they’ve suffered a two-game exit only once in 2016. Their best finish was fifth in 2012 with a team powered by Ryan Torres-Torioka, Jarett Kitaoka, and Evyn Yamaguchi.
The only problem for Konawaena is that HPA, under coach Jordan Hayslip, has been just as good and features more pitching depth as proven last year in the postseason.
The Wildcats won twice during the regular season, but the young Ka Makani pitchers came of age and prevailed in the best of three BIIF semifinals for a state berth.
Tabieros’ fourth season as coach shapes up as a significant one for his four key seniors: Kolu Alani, AJ Allred, Stevie Texeira and Andrew Udac. Back in 2015, it was his first season as coach, and he promoted those four to the varsity.
Alani and Texeira, left-handed pitchers and tough infield bats, third baseman Allred, and center fielder Udac will be counted on to lead the Wildcats.
“The four seniors have been here since the beginning,” Tabieros said. “It’s a special group.”
Each Wildcat offers something different, even the two left-handed pitchers, Alani and Texeira.
“AJ is a hard worker. This is his year,” Tabieros said. Andrew is a good leadoff hitter. He’s fast and crafty with the bat. He has a good glove and can play all the infield and outfield positions. We count on him as a utility guy.
“Kolu is a leader a grinder. We need Stevie as a pitcher and for his bat. He’s come through for us before, and he’ll grind it.”
On the mound, Alani and Texeira don’t throw hard, but they’ve got effective curveballs. Alani’s hook has a sharp, tight break while Texeira has a classic 12-to-6 o’clock, big-breaking bender.
The Wildcats have all season to find a No. 3 starter and build their bullpen depth. They just have to be mindful to not suffer too many losses. It’s not a good thing to be the No. 4 seed in the BIIF playoffs and face likely No. 1 Kamehameha and all its pitching weapons.
The BIIF season starts Feb. 27 with HPA at Honokaa, Kealakehe at Kohala and Pahoa at Waiakea. Konawaena’s season-opener is Saturday, March 3 at Keaau.
There are three returning junior starters in catcher Kaanoi Rivera and outfielders Boaz Ayers and Jake Basque.
Last season, shortstop Kaiya Leleiwi stabilized the infield defense, a vital key with a ground-ball pitching staff.
Leleiwi was one of the smoothest infielders the league has seen in a long time with old-school skills. He was a charge-scoop-and-fire fielder. He’s playing ball at Mayville University in North Dakota, along with Konawaena alum Shelton Grace.
The shortstop job falls to freshman Bronson Rivera, who played on the basketball team. The other rookie starter is Nalu Satkofsky, a sophomore designated hitter.
During the 25th annual Stanley Costales Sr. Memorial tournament last week, Kamehameha crushed Konawaena 9-3, displaying the value of efficient pitching.
Kalani Marquez (four innings), Justyce Ishii (two frames), and Kyran Kai (one inning) combined for just two free passes (one walk and one hit by pitch).
Alani, Texeira, and Allred each went two innings and combined for six free passes; three of the five walks eventually scored.
One reason the Warriors have won six BIIF crowns in a row is that they don’t beat themselves.
That’s sort of the mindset Tabieros wants his senior core four to pass down to the team.
“As coaches, we can only do so much,” he said. “We need the seniors to provide that leadership and help us be competitive.”