BIIF baseball preview: Kamehameha guards crown jealously

Kamehameha’s nemesis in baseball is also an acquaintance, not a close pal to catch a movie with but a friendly and fierce competitor who raises the competition bar.

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Kamehameha’s nemesis in baseball is also an acquaintance, not a close pal to catch a movie with but a friendly and fierce competitor who raises the competition bar.

After all, there’s nothing like someone from across the island looking to steal your Big Island Interscholastic Federation glory, and adding to the hoopla in the Division II race.

For the past four years, either Kamehameha or Konawaena won the BIIF Division II championship. Kamehameha got the past two and last season’s title game was a roller-coaster.

The Wildcats scored three runs in the top of the seventh to take a 6-4 lead, getting two runs on wild pitches and another on an error.

The resilient Warriors answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 win. They used two singles, an error and three walks, the last bringing in the winning run.

And for fans who enjoy early-season thrillers, the two foes meet in the second week of the season at Kamehameha on March 19.

Each team will have its top arms ready because in the season openers on Saturday the Warriors host underdog Honokaa and the Wildcats travel to underdog Pahoa.

Like in boys volleyball, the early matchup can be a drama drain. The winner on March 19 will be in the driver’s seat for the BIIF regular-season title, which includes the first berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.

The loser will play catch-up for the rest of the season. (The first tiebreaker is head-to-head result.)

Since statewide classification began in 2008, either Kamehameha or Konawaena could stake claim as the BIIF’s best team in Division II.

The Warriors have won three league titles in 2010, ’12 and last season, and finished runner-up at states in 2010 and last year. They reached states as a Division I member in 2008 and joined Division II in 2010.

The Wildcats captured one BIIF championship in 2011, and have reached states all six years.

The Warriors are stacked with experience. They return six senior starters: catcher Makoa Rosario, first baseman Paka Davis, second baseman Jordan Hirae, third baseman Micah Carter, center fielder Chay Toson and left fielder Matt Chun.

Daylen Calicdan, who had spot starts at shortstop, gets the full-time job. The sophomore also picked up valuable experience during the summer on Hilo’s runner-up team at the PONY World Series.

Junior left-handed pitcher Kobi Candaroma will start in right field when he’s not on the mound. Toson, who has much big-game experience, will also be in the rotation. Hirae is a triple threat, a relief pitcher to erase early trouble, a high-leverage closer or a spot starter.

Hirae (.321 batting average, .435 on-base), Carter (.419 on-base) at designated hitter and Toson (.368 on-base) landed on the All-BIIF first team while Calicdan, Chun, Davis, and Rosario received honorable mention last year.

“We’re athletic and have a lot of speed in the lineup,” coach Andy Correa said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have changed their bodies in the last three years with lifting and running. That’s a lot of hard work put in and a major sacrifice. We have some guys who could be in football or basketball, but they’ve made a commitment to baseball.

The Warriors have one question concerning the three traits of winning baseball: pitching, defense and timely hitting.

“Our defense is the question mark,” said Correa, who lost third baseman Bronson Pulgados and shortstop/ace pitcher Kupono Decker, a pair of key defenders. “But we’re working on that.”

The BIIF is trying a new playoff format for baseball and softball: a three-game series, with a doubleheader on the first day, for the semifinals and championship.

A pitching staff’s depth will be tested. Pitchers who throw strikes under pressure are essential. In the 2012 BIIF championship, Konawaena couldn’t find the strike zone, walked 10 batters and lost 13-0 to Kamehameha for the title.

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The next time the Warriors issue 10 free passes in the BIIF championship will be the first.

“Kobi is a strike thrower. He can throw three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. He’s really grown into the position,” Correa said. “Chay has pitched well in big games and we’ll need that with the three-game postseason. We can rely on Jordan to close, start or relieve. He’s consistently throwing strikes and he can always throw two of his four pitches over for strikes.”

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