Nobody will say it out loud, at least not on the baseball diamonds of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
It is true, though, that despite young rosters and unproven coaches, the lower ranks of the league may be as good as the best of any of the state's leagues.
Of course, Punahou (22-7 last year) will attest to the league's parity and strength after winning its third straight state crown last season. Kamehameha (22-13), rich in pitching talent, was a close second after falling to Punahou in the state final, 4-3 in nine innings.
"Punahou's the favorite," Kamehameha coach Vern Ramie said. "They've got a lot of guys back from last year. Their kids keep getting better and better every year."
Punahou coach Eric Kadooka pointed to Kamehameha.
"They have their entire pitching staff back. It's incredible," he said.
Punahou and Kamehameha have owned the spotlight in recent years, but the fresh talent at Iolani, Mid-Pacific, Saint Louis and even Damien are stepping up.
"Everybody's getting stronger. Look at Damien, and Pac-Five had their best season yet," Ramie added.
Mid-Pacific coach Dunn Muramaru agreed.
"I say it's Punahou until someone beats 'em. Kamehameha has lots of pitching, and Iolani has a lot of speed. Damien is dangerous. A lot of those guys are four-year seniors."
Alas, the lower tier of the league is a year older, a year wiser and a year better. In nonconference play this season, the ILH is a combined 67-25. That's a whopping win-loss percentage of 72 percent.
Damien outslugged perennial state contenders Aiea and Waiakea at the Yonamine tournament on Maui over the weekend.
Mid-Pacific is already 12-4 despite a lineup that is still weighted heavily by underclassmen.
Saint Louis has made a nice rebound and is 10-2 following a four-game sweep of foes in the Waimea tournament.
Even Pac-Five, which lost a horde of talented seniors to graduation, was a respectable 6-5 in nonleague play.
To that, ILH naysayers could point out that the league seemed to be dominant a year ago, yet finished with only three teams in the final Star-Bulletin Top 10 poll.
A Look at the ILH
Terry Derby, first season
Derby inherits a mix of veterans to go with promising young talent. Duncan Ebert, Robert Cuizon and Evander Ledward are a solid trio on the mound who have had their share of hard luck in recent seasons.
The Monarchs had 10 hits in a 9-8 win over Aiea and 10 more hits in a 7-4 win over Waiakea.
Offensive punch has arrived, though, with shortstop Travis Derby (.710 in the past week) and power-hitting Scott Talaesea.
"He has the most power in the state. He's a good hitter, period," Derby said of the left-handed-hitting slugger.
Catcher Darby Ventura, like Talaesea, is only a junior. Ventura nearly won the home-run derby on Maui. Kai Higa is valuable as a catcher and center fielder.
Former Little League World Series star Michael Memea is making an impact as a freshman.
"He's getting better by the day," Derby said of Memea, now an outfielder who went 4-for-8 on Maui.
Dean Yonamine, 11th season
14 (three starters)
Many talented seniors graduated, the Raiders lost much of their punch at the plate, and they will be young.
Sophomore first baseman Reyn Nagamine could be the best hitter in the league. Other returning starters are third baseman Case Miyahira and second baseman Brennan Nacario.
Kelsey Outram, a 6-foot-2 junior, and sophomore J.R. Bunda could be up to the challenge.
"I think our two starting pitchers have to come up big," Yonamine said. "They're pretty good power guys, pretty good breaking balls and straight change."
Yonamine and his staff are one of the best statewide, and the addition of former Moanalua pitching coach Eric Yamamoto (Iolani class of 1999) is a boost.
"I tell (Moanalua coach) Scott Yamada that he was only on loan to them," Yonamine quipped.
Vern Ramie, 17th season
17 (four starters)
The Warriors lost key players up the middle like catcher Stuart Kam and shortstop Aaron Nichols. "It's kind of scary, but we should be OK with our replacements," Ramie said.
Pitching is a strength with Kapono Chang, Ashkhon Kuhaulua, Jordan Inafuku and Waylen Sing Chow, who also plays center field. Chang and Sing Chow were Star-Bulletin All-State second-team picks.
Third baseman Parker McCready, who did not play in the state tourney last year due to a disciplinary measure, could be a gem at third base.
The Warriors are so deep, they split into two squads for some nonconference games to get more players more plate appearances.
"Even up to (Saturday), we've been making decisions on some of our players," said Ramie, a former UH outfielder.
Keoni Lum, a senior, has cracked the starting lineup in left field. "He was a pinch runner for us last year and didn't play a lot, but he's been a surprise this season," Ramie said.
Dunn Muramaru, 22nd season.
11 (five starters).
The Owls were extremely young last year and remain among the youngest teams this season. Still, they can make a run, thanks to balance and talent.
Pitchers Pat McDaniel and Rod Dittrich are just sophomores, while Dane Kinoshita is a junior. Catcher Aaron Fujiki has returned from Roosevelt to join classmates Mike Nagamine, a first baseman, and Russell Doi (second baseman). Shortstop Wade Tamaru is a sophomore, while Easton Torigoe will play at the corners and handle DH duties.
"They're a little more experienced now, older and a little better, but still learning how to win," Muramaru said.
The outfield isn't set yet, Muramaru said. "We might start three sophomores, but the seniors are faster."
Todd Koishigawa, fourth season.
11 (four starters).
Last year's senior-heavy squad started out strong and was ranked in the Top 10 early.
"We peaked at the wrong time," Koishigawa lamented.
This year's 'Pack are young, but competitive. They won the Baldwin tournament, then struggled after coming back home.
"It's been a real roller-coaster preseason," their coach said.
Seniors Samson Aina and Ryan DeMello are the aces, while Kama Moises (outfielder/designated hitter) and Ross Yamato (utility) are top juniors. Yamato hit nearly .400 as a sophomore.
Center fielder Ronell Trias graduated and is now at UH-Hilo, but Zach Fujimoto shows promise.
"He's probably stronger than Ronell was as a junior. He's quicker, but behind in baseball knowledge," Koishigawa said.
Eric Kadooka, seventh season.
12 (five starters).
The Buffanblu are ranked No. 41 nationally by Baseball America magazine for good reason. Pitcher of the Year Harrison "Jeeter" Ishida returns with a talented crop of juniors, including catcher Zack Kometani, pitcher-first baseman Paul Snieder, shortstop Josh Kaminski and center fielder Matt Suiter. Snieder and Suiter were Star-Bulletin All-State second-team selections.
Like last year, Punahou's hitting stats aren't off the charts.
"We hit .280 and this year it's the same thing," Kadooka said. "But one through nine, we're pretty solid."
The Buffanblu are seven deep on the mound and won all three games in the Yonamine tournament on Maui, though Ishida didn't play due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
With wins over pitching-solid teams like Mililani, Kamehameha, Baldwin and Hilo, the Buffanblu have plenty of confidence.
Punahou may start three sophomores: outfielder Kimo Makaula, pitcher/first baseman Evan Lim and designated hitter Tyler Young. Makaula hit a key two-run homer against Baldwin that went over the scoreboard at Iron Maehara Stadium.
"If these three kids do the job, we'll be pretty consistent," Kadooka said.
Saint Louis Crusaders
Duane Fraticelli, second season.
19 (four starters).
Confidence is brimming for the Crusaders, especially after a 7-6 win over Big Island powerhouse Kamehameha-Hawaii.
"It was like a playoff game. It was very intense," Fraticelli said. "We're way ahead of last year."
The pitching staff is anchored by seniors Grant Costa and Jason Fukumoto (a lefty), and junior Josh Saio. Saint Louis has 10 pitchers on the roster. Kamakani Usui can bring some heat to the mound, as well.
Shortstop Danny Higa and second baseman Ryan Iaea anchor the infield, while Cole Shidaki will play first base and step in as a designated hitter.
Catcher Moses Samia is a freshman in age only. As an eighth-grader, he worked out with the varsity.
"He can hit, he's a good defensive catcher and he can play with the big boys," Fraticelli said. "He'll start some games behind Keoni Haina."