FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou catcher Zach Kometani is one of the three best catchers in the state, in the eyes of Buffanblu coach Eric Kadooka.
Kometani and four-time state champ Punahou are not used to looking up in the ILH
BEING a catcher can be the toughest and most grueling position on the baseball field. You are asked to be many things: a receiver, a leader, a friend and whatever else the coaching staff and other players need from you.
Finding someone who fulfills all of those roles can be a challenge. Punahou has had the good fortune of having Zach Kometani not just meet the challenge but succeed at it for a third straight season.
The senior has been part of three state championship teams, having been brought up from the junior varsity as a freshman for the state tournament. Now he is trying to lead them to a fifth consecutive state title, a road that has been quite bumpy this season.
Expectations for the Buffanblu were running high coming into the season. Many assumed that, because Punahou returned almost all of its starting lineup as well as a few top prospects, the Buffanblu would coast to their fifth consecutive state title.
However, the other teams in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu haven't allowed Punahou to sleep-walk through the regular season.
With a 10-8 loss Monday to Saint Louis, Punahou fell to 8-5-1. The Buffanblu look to rebound in the ILH tournament and earn the chance of winning another state championship.
"It has been a little rough in the beginning for our team, but we are coming together now," Kometani said. "I think we will be all right."
In order for Punahou to be successful, they'll need Kometani to play well and produce offensively, according to Buffanblu head coach Eric Kadooka.
Last season, Kometani had an excellent state tournament, delivering when the team needed it the most.
"Last year in the state tournament, you want to talk about under pressure, Zach was 7-for-10," senior pitcher Harrison "Jeeter" Ishida said. "He was just unbelievably clutch for us."
Kometani drove in three runs in the championship game.
He's been a catcher since he was 10 and has developed his baseball intelligence over the years. As a sophomore starter, he was able to learn from the upperclassmen and continue to apply it to his game.
"There was only one senior starter, so I really had to step up as a leader my junior year," Kometani said. "Especially being a catcher. And we had a lot of sophomore players on the team."
Kometani had a busy offseason that included playing with the Punahou summer program as well as being on travel teams to the mainland to improve his college stock.
"Zach and I work out all the time," Ishida said. "We are good friends and this offseason was really good. We did a lot of lifting and ran a lot."
Kometani hit the weight room to increase his strength. The 6-foot, 210-pound senior said that he plans to put on more muscle in preparation for the college ranks.
According to Ishida, Kometani displays a great work ethic as an athlete and can always be seen early at the Punahou batting cages.
"Practice starts at 4 p.m. and Zach, on any given day, is down here at 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. taking cuts in the batting cage," Ishida said.
The change in Kometani since his sophomore season has not gone unnoticed. The coaches have watched him put the work in and are pleased with the outcome.
"He has taken it upon himself to do more and that is what the better athletes do," Kadooka said. "It takes a lot of time and dedication."
According to Kadooka, Kometani has done the work when no one is looking and put himself in a position to get drafted or to play at the Division I level.
"I am definitely trying to step up and be the figure of the team and make sure the young guys are looking up to a good example," Kometani said. "Me along with Jeeter and all the seniors are trying to take on a leadership role for the team."
The coaching staff sees team leadership as an integral part of baseball.
"Something people may not know about (Kometani) is that he really cares about how the team is doing and he really cares about his teammates," Kadooka said.
Kometani has made the attempt to develop a working relationship with his pitching staff. Building the rapport with Ishida was easy, since the pair have played together from a young age.
However, earning the respect from the other pitchers took work. During games Kometani can be seen talking to his pitchers about upcoming hitters as well as pitch sequences.
"I have to make sure that I control my pitching staff," Kometani said. "If the pitchers know that you are going to be there for them behind the plate every game, they end up pitching a lot better."
According to Ishida, the Star-Bulletin 2007 Player of the Year, Kometani is one of the top catchers in the state. However, two other catchers may be able to stake claim at being the best.
Kadooka sees three top catchers in the state -- Kometani, Kolten Wong from Kamehameha-Hawaii and Aaron Fujiki from Mid-Pacific.
Kadooka thinks Fujiki is probably the best defensive catcher and Wong is the best offensive catcher.
"Zach is probably a combination of both (offense and defense)," Kadooka said. "He is probably a little better hitter than Aaron and a little better defensively than Kolten, but those three are probably all the same."
Kometani is also the younger brother of former Pepperdine star and current minor league pitcher Kea Kometani. Zach said that he uses his brother as a role model.
"It's a pretty good feeling when your brother is playing professional baseball and he has the experience at that level," Kometani said. "He calls me to talk about my season and I talk to him about how he is doing."