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Baldwin's Kekahuna goes golden behind Cal plate


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POSTED: Friday, March 13, 2009

Sanoe Kekahuna is feeling much more at home these days.

And the California softball team's visit to Honolulu this week is just part of the reason.

Stationed at first base for most of her freshman year with the Golden Bears, the Baldwin graduate is back behind the plate this season as Cal's starting catcher.

“;It's where I feel like it's my comfort zone, my bubble, my zone where I can do my thing,”; Kekahuna said. “;Behind the plate is where I feel more comfortable.”;

The Golden Bears are in town for the Chevron Spring Fling tournament this week, bringing Kekahuna back to Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, where she helped the Baldwin Bears capture the Division I state championship as a senior in 2007.

The tournament, which wraps up tomorrow, marks Kekahuna's second trip back to Hawaii in her college career. She accompanied Cal to Honolulu last season as a freshman still adjusting to college life both on the field and in the classroom.

That process continues as a sophomore with Kekahuna making the transition back to her natural position for Cal, ranked ninth this week in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and 11th in the NFCA/USA Today poll. But she returns strengthened by both the successes and growing pains she experienced in her first year at Berkeley.

“;She's more focused this year. She knows she's got one year under her belt,”; said Kaimi Kekahuna, Sanoe's father. “;She's grown athletically, but more so academically.”;

Kekahuna began the week third on the team with a .306 batting average with 16 runs batted in and four home runs, including a solo shot against BYU to spark a 4-2 comeback win over the Cougars last week in the Bayer Crop Science Classic in Fresno.

She traces her demeanor at the plate to her return to the position she grew up playing.

“;It starts behind the plate defensively,”; said Kekahuna, whose cousin Kaleo Eldredge also played for Cal. “;I use that energy and put it into my hitting. It feels a lot better. I'm not as nervous as I was my freshman year.”;

Kekahuna enjoyed a similarly hot start last season and closed her freshman year at .299 with eight home runs and tied a school record by driving in seven runs in a win over Texas Tech. She was rewarded with a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team and the league's all-freshman team after helping the Bears reach the NCAA Super Regionals.

Even given the power Kekahuna's displayed so far, veteran Cal coach Diane Ninemire sees even more potential in her bat.

“;She can be a real phenomenal hitter. That's one of her strengths, her ability to hit and be patient,”; Ninemire said.

“;You have to get into the mind of the pitcher and understand how they're pitching you and what they see in you as a hitter and what are your strengths or what are your weaknesses, and be willing to keep building on your strengths, and I think every time she goes out there she's doing that.”;

Kekahuna was seemingly destined to wear a catcher's mask and shin guards when she was born to Kaimi and Kim Kekahuna, both catchers at Lahainaluna during their high school days.

Kaimi introduced Sanoe to the game at age 4, then began teaching her the craft of catching at 8.

“;At first she was kind of reluctant,”; he recalled, “;but she realized you can actually speed up the game, slow it down as much as you want, control the mentality of the pitcher and the defense. You see a whole different view. To say she feels more at home, definitely.”;

Along with acclimating to competition in the Pac-10—which has six teams ranked in the top 13 in this week's polls—the ethnic studies major also adapted to Cal's rigorous academic environment.

But schoolwork has long carried as much weight in the Kekahuna household as blocking pitches in the dirt.

“;We've always stressed academics. I've grounded her for not having a 3.5 in high school,”; Kaimi Kekahuna said. “;I want to make sure she knows it's about school.”;

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