LIHUE — With yet another league title in tow, the Red Raiders have their sights on the big prize.
The Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Championships – Division II state tournament begins today at Hans L’Orange Field in Waipahu.
The unseeded Red Raiders (10-3 KIF) will take on No. 4 Molokai (10-1 Maui Interscholastic League) at 11:30 a.m. in the opening round.
Kauai High defeated Kapaa, 3-1, in a playoff game earlier this month to win its fourth consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation baseball championship and clinch a state berth.
“This year was pretty competitive with the three of us,” said Kauai head coach Hank Ibia during Wednesday’s practice at Vidinha Stadium. “Walking into this year after leaving, I think, eight seniors last year, we knew we were going to be a little younger and maybe less experienced. But as we went into our preseason and headed into our season, we got better.
“Lack of experience, but the games still got to be played, in a sense,” he continued. “Certain games, things worked out for us. We hit the right time, or somebody made an error on the opposite side. It had fallen in our place.”
Red Raiders senior infielder Sam Nakata leads the team in hits (20), runs (19), and RBIs (12) and has .500 batting average in the regular season.
“I just have to stay within myself, and just see good pitches. Take good hacks and just hit the ball hard,” Nakata said. “Just hit the ball hard, and it will find a way through eventually. I was able to do that this year and help the team out with whatever I could. Whether it was driving in runs, getting on base, getting beaned, whatever. Just get some runs up and help the team in any way possible.”
Ibia said he’s not at all surprised on how well Nakata has done at the plate.
“The day I (returned) as head coach, I think he was a freshman or sophomore. Just watching him hit was like, ‘Wow. This guy here, this guy can hit,’” the coach said. “From day one, he was pretty productive. Knowing that he was going to be as good as he is today, yes, I knew that. If for some reason he didn’t fall to where I thought he was going to be, it would be a disappointment for me and him.”
Ibia said a challenge this season was establishing a pitching staff.
“All of them haven’t pitched last year. We never had one guy coming back and pitch,” he said. “That was the toughest thing to do — to find pitchers first and to see where the thing goes with that. As the season goes on, we found one, two, maybe three. That worked out alright.”
Today, sophomore Jacob Borrero is expected the start on the mound. He has a 1-1 record with an 1.89 ERA and one save.
“This team is very hard working,” Borrero said. “We really don’t like losing. We just try to get better every day.”
Kauai placed fifth in last season’s tournament.
The then-No. 2 seed Red Raiders lost to Radford of the Oahu Interscholastic Association in the opening round, 6-3, defeated Konawaena of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, 6-3, and beat Molokai in the fifth place game, 2-0.
“For us, we made errors in that first game — like three errors in one inning,” Ibia. “As good as you think you are — it don’t matter if you have eight seniors, four seniors, two seniors — the games still got to be played. You cannot walk into something like this tomorrow thinking that you win automatic. You still got to play.”
Ibia and Kauai High have won two Division II state championships — the most recent was in 2011.
“In 2011, we were juniors and seniors strong. They’ve been there for the first state championship (in 2008),” Ibia said. “It had carried them enough well. They knew how to win.”
Though this will be the last go-around for Nakata and the other seniors, he said there’s no added pressure. He just hopes he and the team will do well.
“I mean, we are shooting to win,” he said. “Hopefully this year, we can come out on top. The last two years, we were able to go. But unfortunately, we didn’t quite win it all. We just got to do what we got to do, and just play our best. Good things should happen.”
Today’s other Division II match-ups at Hans L’Orange Field are:
No. 1 Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii (16-2 BIIF) vs. Radford (9-3 OIA D2), 4:30 p.m.
No. 2 Waianae (12-0 OIA D2) vs. Hawaii Prep (9-10 BIIF), 2 p.m.
No. 3 Damien Memorial (15-5 ILH D2) vs. Farrington (10-3 OIA D2), 7 p.m.
Statistics from ScoringLive.