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StarBulletin.com

Sabers make noise


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The quiet, laid-back young player had Rory Pico concerned.

A few years back, Charles “;Kale”; Kaalekahi showed immense potential, a lanky 6-foot-2 right-hander who wasn't taking his books as seriously as he did his game.

Pico didn't have to worry long. Kaalekahi blossomed as a student and now, as a senior, has a 3.2 cumulative grade-point average. Pair that with his junior season: a 5-2 record with an 0.72 ERA, 39 strikeouts and eight walks in 48 innings as a Star-Bulletin All-State baseball selection last season. When your best player quietly leads by example on and off the field, life gets a notch easier.

“;There were times a couple of years ago when I worried about him in school, but he matured to meet his goals. His parents are real good about that,”; said Pico, who was elated when Kaalekahi signed with the University of Hawaii. Kaalekahi is opting for the same route that Pico took from Campbell.

“;He can represent our school here. He really wanted to go there. At first, he was all over the place,”; said Pico, who was an infielder at UH.

Kaalekahi had offers from UCLA, Long Beach State and Arizona State.

“;When things got serious, he said, 'I want to stay home.' Getting drafted is a possibility, but the college experience will benefit him a lot,”; Pico said.

For Kaalekahi, who is named after his grandfather (Charles) and father (Kale), the biggest reason for staying home is undeniable.

“;The beach. There's no beaches like Hawaii beaches,”; he said.

From Waimea to Barbers Point, Kale and his friends have surfed and bodyboarded. In the bigger picture, Kale has a vision.

“;One day, maybe I'll coach like Coach Rory. Give back to the school and coach here, too,”; he said.

Pico's concerns gravitated to other areas, especially toward the many underclassmen on the roster, this spring. Kaalekahi was off to a 5-0 start in league play as Campbell surged into the title chase. On Saturday, a day off from his normal pitching duties, Kaalekahi was at shortstop against Kapolei when a bang-bang play at second base on a steal attempt ended with the senior on the ground, blood pouring from one of his shins after being inadvertently cleated. Just moments into the game, Campbell's best player was down for the count. Seven stitches and a hospital trip later, Kaalekahi was doing better.

His teammates? Not so much. Kapolei routed their neighboring pals 11-2.

“;Without him, we had three sophomores and a freshman starting in our infield,”; Pico said. “;You could see guys trying too hard to make the perfect pitch, swings were tighter. Going after (ground) balls, they're more tentative.

“;Mentally, it was draining on our boys. The mood of the team went from even-keeled to 'What are we going to do?' “;

The Sabers don't play again until Saturday—a twin bill against Aiea—so the timing isn't too bad. There's a lot of baseball to be played, and at No. 10 in the Star-Bulletin Baseball Top 10, the Sabers are starting to pick up on voters' radars again.

College is in the distant future, at least in Kale's mind. New goals are starting to form.

“;I want to be good in baseball and at least try to pitch a no-hitter in college,”; he said. “;I want to get better grades than I did in high school. And get drafted.”;

Working for a living doesn't scare him, but anything is possible.

“;If I got drafted, it would depend on the amount of money. If it's not that much, I'd go to school,”; he said. “;My dad and (grand) papa said to do what I think is right.”;

An uncle, Jimmy Kaimikaua, played baseball at Punahou, grandpa played nearly everything except baseball at Punahou, and dad played football at Kamehameha and Campbell. When it came to the national pastime, Kale and younger brother Chadwick leaned on each other.

Chadwick, a junior, is an energizer, an on-field general who uses his chatty personality well as a catcher.

A lot of their success has resulted from a willingness to compromise. Chadwick makes the calls both on pitches and the coverages of his teammates, Pico noted.

The two came up in the youth leagues of Ewa Beach.

“;We weren't dominating, but we were scrappy,”; said Chadwick.

Now, the focus is on going for the Oahu Interscholastic Association title and beyond.

“;We have the talent to do it,”; Kale said. “;But nobody really knows it yet. They'll come to the field. We'll surprise them.”;