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StarBulletin.com

Small ball a big key for Punahou


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

It was the fabric of microscopic baseball.

A collusion of baseball fundamentals in a coordinated attack. It was, of course, classic Punahou, a symphony for small ball.

“;We call it pressure, always put pressure on the other team,”; Buffanblu coach Eric Kadooka said. “;It's a base. That's what we do.”;

It was barely enough to get past Kailua, a four-time state champion that had its best team since the 2001 state winner. For Punahou (20-12-1 overall), a sixth consecutive state crown adds to an overcrowded trophy case — the Buffanblu won titles in six state championship sports on Saturday.

Patience paid off. At one point during the season, Kadooka was beyond the usual sandbagging done by some coaches in the weekly Top 10 voting. He squarely saw 10 other teams besides his own that deserved votes. At the time, Punahou was struggling to stay above .500 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. Thoughts of a state championship were far down the list.

When Kamehameha, 'Iolani, Pearl City and other powerhouses have, arguably, their best teams in recent memory, what else can explain Punahou's continuity? The difference was fractional. Kamehameha beat Punahou four times in five meetings this season coming into the state tourney. Punahou had to rally past Mid-Pacific to claim a state berth, then barely got past Campbell in the opening round. The Buffanblu were sound defensively, but not perfect: five errors in four state games.

So no, they weren't dominant. They simply won another championship.

Senior Jeremy Fujimoto, named outstanding player of the D-I tournament, fanned 19 batters in roughly nine innings. But the next wave of blue-collar Buffanblu is already landing. For the underlings, who turn into phenoms under the lights come state-tourney time, the reward can be sweet.

“;I still got three more years to go,”; freshman pitcher Zachery Muenster said.

After permitting just one earned run, striking out seven with one walk in 9 2/3 innings, he's already 2-0 in state tournament play.

Kailua's comeback in the sixth inning made this a one-run game and probably one of the best state baseball finals in history. It said a lot about the Surfriders' will to compete, never to back down against any foe, even a Goliath. Kailua coach Corey Ishigo just wished he could've given back that big koa championship trophy for all of the support given to his team.

Ultimately, there may not be another program that works as long and hard in the offseason as Punahou. Somehow, the roster attracts more and more players in an era when teenagers are more apt to enjoy a surplus of free time — hanging out and playing video games — rather than practice continuously and scrape for any kind of playing time. That says a lot about Kadooka and his talented staff.

But on this night, Kailua had Punahou on the ropes late in the title matchup. Despite the loss, the Surfriders played championship ball — something that couldn't be said in March. It was typical Kailua maturation from start to finish: a 2-15 preseason record before an Oahu Interscholastic Association title run.

Ishigo found gratification beyond wins and losses.

“;We belong to the community of Kailua and Waimanalo, and we appreciate all they do, all the donations, all the help, all the support they do for us. It means a lot for us to thank them,”; he said. “;This was a great team. They played together and we really got close. I think they learned a lot about life through this season.”;