Punahou becoming a baseball dynasty
What Saint Louis was once to prep football, Punahou has become in high school baseball
What Saint Louis was once to prep football, Punahou has become in high school baseball.
That's why coaches, particularly those from the Oahu Interscholastic Association, aren't overly optimistic about their chances next year. Punahou won its fourth straight state championship on Saturday, beating Pearl City 7-1. The Buffanblu won their three games by a margin of 36-7 and will return a plethora of talent next year.
Punahou, which closed the season 29-3 and No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10, also has one of the better staffs in the state.
Kaiser coach Peter Ho jests that it'll take two combined programs to beat the Buffanblu, while Mililani's Dean Sato sees a Punahou program that executes the little details without peer.
There was a time when the Punahou baseball program was out of sight, out of mind.
While other sports at the school thrived, baseball went through a stretch of good-but-not-great seasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Times have changed. Punahou has now captured an unprecedented four consecutive state baseball crowns. It is not, no matter how superstitious coach Eric Kadooka is, a matter of luck. The Buffanblu are stacked with talent, and nearly every starter will return next season.
Punahou also has tremendous coaching, led by Kadooka, a former Buffanblu standout.
"This is definitely a dynasty," Mililani coach Dean Sato said. "They're dangerous. They got everybody coming back next year, and from what I heard, the JV is just as good."
Sato points to the dedication within the program.
"Kadooka works them from the bottom up, he puts in the time. From sixth grade on, they go on trips. The time and effort they put in, you gotta give them credit," he said.
Punahou, ranked 26th by Collegiate Baseball and No. 10 in USA Today's West Region, also played with an element of unpredictability. In Saturday's 7-1 title-game win over Pearl City, cleanup hitter Paul Snieder was one of five Buffanblu who put down bunts.
"They look like a total team. I never thought they'd be bunting so much, but that's what it is. They're a well-rounded team," Sato said. "They should be on the same page next year for a fifth title, but the ILH is tough."
Runner-up Pearl City began the season on fire and climbed to No. 3. All the while, veteran coach Mel Seki was slightly amused by the attention. Then came a midseason mini-slump. The Chargers regrouped and stormed through the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs, and then made a run to the state-tournament final.
"Pearl City, you've gotta give them credit, they're all from Pearl City," Sato noted. "Mel gets a lot of credit. The time the parents put in at places like Pearl City is incredible."
Kaiser reached the state semifinals after a roller-coaster ride through the OIA. Coach Peter Ho also agrees that the Buffanblu are in the midst of domination.
"Is this a dynasty? It definitely is. Those guys, it's like Saint Louis in football. I think the guys they cut could make other varsity teams and become stars," Ho said. "It's hard to compete with a team like that because they get the top kids. All the good ones want to go to Punahou, as well as Mid-Pac and Iolani."
Even with all the experience and talent the Buffanblu have, they are human.
"Maybe they'll get complacent. I don't know, but somebody has to knock 'em off one of these years. Not next year, though. They have everybody coming back," Ho said.
"What we need is to combine schools, and even then, it's not an even playing field," Ho said, only half in jest. "We don't have players from all over the island."
There is the ideal of a public school, especially a mid-sized one like Kaiser or even Molokai, riding an underdog role to a state championship.
"Hopefully, one of our OIA teams will pull it off next year. You just gotta be lucky," he said. "I told my team, there will always be teams better than you, you just have to be better for that day."
If it isn't going to be Punahou at the top next season, chances are another ILH team would emerge. Teams from the private school league have won every state baseball title since 2002.
Since '95, only one OIA team -- Kailua -- has won the state crown. In fact, during that period, the MIL has won three times. Molokai won in '99 and '00, and Baldwin took the title in '95.
Going back to the tournament's inception in 1959, Punahou now has 10 baseball championship trophies. Since public schools split from the ILH to form the OIA in 1970, the OIA has won seven state titles.