Many teams in the running
in OIA East baseball


The general consensus among Oahu Interscholastic Association East division coaches is that the battle for the top spot in the league will be a hotly contested one.

One of the favorites is 2004 East champion Kaiser, which returns three all-league picks from last year's 9-1 team that finished fourth in the OIA tournament and earned a state-tournament berth. The Cougars are ranked sixth in this week's Star-Bulletin Top 10.

Kailua, Moanalua and Kalani were also among the teams discussed most often as contenders. The Surfriders have dominated the OIA tournament in recent years, but watched the finals from the stands last year after being bounced by Waianae in the opening round. Kailua won the previous four league tourneys.

"I was hoping we'd slip under the radar this year," said Kailua coach Corey Ishigo. "I thought people might not be as aware of us, but I guess that's not going to happen."

Moanalua returns several starters, including the bulk of its pitching staff from a year ago.

"Moanalua's really tough," said Castle coach Joe Tom, who enters his 15th year with the Knights. "They've got like seven starters back and they have the arms to do it."

Kalani opened eyes late in the preseason, winning its final four contests to improve to 8-5. According to coach Shannon Hirai, the arrival of Joshua Markwith from Iowa has provided a spark.


The teams


Coach: Joe Tom
On paper: The Knights will be led by returning All-OIA East second-team first baseman Ivan Paaga, who also went 4-1 as a pitcher during his junior season. The 6-foot-1, 270-pound right-hander will lead the Castle rotation with a fastball in the low 80s. Seniors Shane Dydasco and Ikaika Reppuhn will see considerable mound time, and will also play the outfield. Sophomore Corey Paredes has been a pleasant surprise in the preseason, according to Tom. Senior Jeff Akamine will be looked to out of the pen.
The skinny: The Knights will rely on team speed and the middle-infield combo of juniors I'i Kanaeholo (SS) and Brandon Kon (2B) to make a run in the East. After a subpar season a year ago, Castle is looking to return to the top of the divisional ladder.
X factor: The Knights had some bright spots in the preseason, giving them reason for optimism. Castle played top-ranked Punahou even through six innings before a Buffanblu rally broke the game open.


Coach: Brandon Baniaga
On paper: The Governors have a number of seniors leading the effort. Center fielder Alex Mendoza returns to bat third in the Farrington lineup after earning second-team All-OIA East honors last year. The 5-10 170-pounder is a three-year varsity player. Alison Tolentino, an honorable-mention all-league pick last year, will assume the top starter's spot on the hill, and will also play third base. Right-handers J.R. Mariano and Andrew Ganaban round out the Governors' rotation.
The skinny: Farrington has some experience this season, with seven seniors among the Governors' 16 players on roster. Maintaining focus will be the tell-all for the Governors.
X factor: In his first season as head coach, Baniaga is no stranger to Farrington baseball. A four-year letter-winner for the Governors, the 1993 grad has been helping out with the program ever since.


Coach: Steve Van Ness
On paper: Kahuku will be led by a trio of right-handed pitchers/position players in seniors Bronson Ponciano-Ahue and Kurtney Silva and junior Keola Kahele. Ponciano-Ahue will also catch and play shortstop. Silva will also play the middle infield and the outfield, as will Kahele. The threesome will also provide the bulk of the offensive punch in the Kahuku batting order. Junior lead-off batter and center fielder Chico Ramirez will set the table and 6-2, 265-pound sophomore slugger Kaniala Tuipolotu will hit cleanup.
The skinny: According to Van Ness, stability has always been a problem with the Kahuku baseball program, which has had three different coaches in the past few seasons. The native of Galveston, Tex., has spent more than a decade coaching in the youth leagues on the North Shore and has committed himself to the program.
X factor: Defense will be the biggest concern for Kahuku. "We will hit as good as anyone and we have three or four pitchers that will throw strikes," Van Ness said. "But our fundamentals may be a little lacking, so limiting errors will determine how far we go."


Coach: Corey Ishigo
On paper: Kailua will feature seven seniors this season, led by returning All-OIA East performers Kekoa Sua and Ryan Rodrigues. Sua will move from the outfield to second base this season. First baseman Rodrigues has been recovering from a sprained finger.
The skinny: As usual, Kailua is regarded as one of the teams to beat in the East. With four OIA titles from 2000 to 2003, it should be no surprise the Surfriders are expected to contend once again. A consistently strong postseason club, Kailua is looking to make amends for a first-round exit in last year's OIA tournament.
X factor: Ishigo considers this Kailua team one of the hardest-working groups he's had in years. Playing as a team will be a key for a group that had a very productive summer playing American Legion, the Oahu Summer League and in a tournament in Greensboro, N.C.


Coach: Duke Chinen
On paper: Returning multi-purpose players Kaeo Neal (SS/P), Korey Morihara (P/OF), Swayne Seto-Mook (P/1B/OF), Waianae transfer Akoni Sexton (P/2B/OF), and Damien transfer Daren Muramoto (P/IF/OF) will have the biggest impact. All will be looked upon to contribute on the mound and in the field for the Bulldogs. Morihara was an all-league honorable-mention pick last year.
The skinny: As has been the case in past years, the Bulldogs open the season short on experienced ballplayers without a youth program to feed into Kaimuki. At times during the preseason, Chinen had to mix JV and varsity players to field a squad due to a lack of turnout.
X factor: For the Bulldogs to succeed, Chinen notes that they need to play hard and play together to overcome a lack of experience.


Coach: Peter Ho
On paper: The word around the campfire is that Kaiser is very capable of repeating as East Division champ, with 13 returnees -- including seven starters -- from last year's squad that went 9-1 and advanced to the state tournament. Kaiser returns four league all-stars, led by a trio of juniors in Jarryd Maeda (C), Colby Ho (3B) and Scott Uehara (OF) who earned OIA East honors as sophomores. The Cougars also return senior all-league outfielder Landon Kaaua. The Kaiser mound corps will be led by Reyn Kimura (Sr., RHP) and Russell Sasaki (Jr., LHP).
The skinny: League co-coach of the year Ho will not be short on talent. Although Kaiser went 8-10 during the preseason, coaches around the state know the Cougars are better than their ledger shows, as several players missed time due to injuries and playing other sports.
X factor: A big believer in conditioning, Ho mentioned that this preseason was a lot like the last, as Kaiser struggled early in camp, with a few players breaking down as they were whipped into shape. The Cougars have played well of late and are hoping to play their best ball when it counts, as they did a year ago.


Coach: Alex Racoma
On paper: Right-hander Sean Tamba will open the year as the club's top starter. The senior features a fastball, curveball and changeup on the mound, and will also play the infield. Fellow senior Brandon Uehara provides a left-hander in the rotation and will also play outfield and first base. Racoma will also rely on juniors Doug Cox (OF/IF/RHP) and David Pershin, who takes over behind the plate for Jacob Myking, who has moved onto the junior-college ranks.
The skinny: As with other schools filled with military dependents, Kalaheo will have a team young on baseball experience. With that in mind, Kalaheo will play with a team concept. "No one plays for individual stats on this year's team," Racoma said. "We'll try to win as a team, hopefully a fundamentally sound team."
X factor: Pitching and offense will carry this Mustang squad. Having four upperclassmen in the lineup should help steady an inexperienced roster.


Coach: Shannon Hirai
On paper: The Falcons have a unique blend of experience and youth, with a 16-player roster that includes six seniors and seven sophomores. The Falcons are hoping to fill the void left by the graduation of 2004 OIA East Player of the Year Randy Kitagawa by relying on center fielder Trevor Teraoka, shortstop Marcus Fujita, and third baseman/catcher Preston Pires. Teraoka and Fujita were second team all-league picks last year. Pires was an honorable-mention selection. Hirai, the league's co-coach of the year, is also counting on second-team all-league pitcher Reid Matsumura, who did not allow an earned run in the regular season a year ago.
The skinny: With so many underclassmen playing vital roles, Kalani will need to learn to overcome mistakes quickly. The presence of former Kalani star and current Oakland A's farmhand Shane Komine on the Falcon coaching staff should help ease the transition.
X factor: Junior transfer Joshua Markwith has been a blessing for the Falcons. After living abroad for the past five years, Markwith and his family have returned home to Oahu. Since returning from Iowa, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound catcher/third baseman/pitcher has led Kalani to wins in its last four contests, helping Kalani go 8-5 in the preseason.


Coach: Lester Higa
On paper: Last season, Devin Okinaga earned both of McKinley's wins, beating Farrington and Moanalua. In his win against the Menehunes, Okinaga spun a three-hit shutout to out-duel Moanalua ace Andrew Blomberg. Okinaga was also one of McKinley's top hitters.
The skinny: A number of division insiders have noted that McKinley could be one of the surprise teams this season. Okinaga, a junior, and a host of seniors should have the Tigers contending for a postseason appearance.
X factor: McKinley has struggled during the last couple of seasons, but the Tigers have been known to scratch out a solid season every couple of years. This looks to be one of those years.


Coach: Scott Yamada
On paper: The Menehune return one of the division's most formidable mound duos in Andrew Blomberg and Chance Daskauskas. Blomberg has long been regarded as one of the top players in the East, having earned first-team all-league honors last year after earning second-team distinction as a sophomore.
Besides serving as one of Moanalua's top offensive threats, Blomberg also had four of Moanalua's six wins last season, including a 3-1 win over Campbell's Tristan Bailey in the OIA Tournament. Daskauskas has twice been selected an honorable-mention All-OIA East pick. Last season Daskauskas posted wins over Kalaheo and Kahuku, and also lost a 1-0 decision against Kalani.
The skinny: The Menehunes will depend on Blomberg and Daskauskas to carry the load, along with Adam and Peter Arakawa.
X factor: Moanalua is one of the envies of the league for its depth on the mound, and will challenge for a longer postseason behind Blomberg and Daskauskas.


Coach: Kerry Higa
On paper: Higa opens the season with his greenest roster in 13 years as head coach, with only one returning starter. Luckily for the Rough Riders, the lone returnee is four-year varsity starter Kevin Fujii. The senior catcher has already committed to play for the University of Hawaii next year. Fellow senior Kalani Yoshimura, an honorable-mention all-league pick, also returns to lead the pitching corps.
The skinny: With a practically brand-new team, Roosevelt spent the preseason finding the right chemistry, resulting in a 4-7 mark. This year's squad will go as far as its senior leadership will take it.
X factor: The maturation of Roosevelt's youngsters will play a large role in the team's success. With seven new position players having to take on responsibilities as starters, the Rough Riders are still searching for an identity. Having last year's No. 2 and 3 starters in Yoshimura and junior RHP David Chow back is a big asset.

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