Punahou takes
shot at second
title in row

Punahou head coach Eric Kadooka goes beyond analysis. His baseball mind has a pinball energy that would put George Costanza to shame. His demeanor, however, often mirrors that of the wise one: Yoda.

HHSAA baseball

At Les Murakami Stadium
Seeds: 1. Punahou. 2. Kailua. 3. Baldwin. 4. Waiakea.
Game 1: Moanalua vs. Maui, 11:30 a.m.
2: Kauai vs. Pearl City, 2 p.m.
3: Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Mililani, 4:30 p.m.
4: Kamehameha vs. Aiea, 7 p.m.
5: Losers of Games 1 & 2, 9 a.m.
6: Waiakea vs. Winner of Game 1, 11:30 a.m.
7: Baldwin vs. Winner of Game 4, 2 p.m.
8: Punahou vs. Winner of Game 2, 4:30 p.m.
9: Kailua vs. Winner of Game 3, 7 p.m.
While 10 other teams take aim at defending champion Punahou, the Buffanblu's leader is crunching information 24/7. His squad, ranked No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Baseball Top 10 all season, enters the Wally Yonamine Foundation State Championship with little to prove. After going 31-3-1 and winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu crown, the Buffanblu are a hands-down favorite to repeat as state champions.

Don't bother telling all this to Kadooka, though. With one of the most balanced fields in recent history, there are a handful of teams that could easily wind up in the finals. They could emerge from the group of eight that opens the tournament this morning at Les Murakami Stadium.

Kamehameha, ranked No. 2 in the Top 10, opens tonight against Aiea after Oahu Interscholastic Association West winner Mililani takes on Kamehameha-Hawaii. Mililani wound up fifth in the OIA after losing in the quarterfinal round.

Punahou has a bye and will meet today's Kauai-Pearl City winner tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.

From Day 1, Kadooka has tried to shield his team from media hype and overinflated expectations. The method worked, obviously, but Kadooka's team wears a bull's-eye that wasn't there a year ago.

"In some ways, it's like last year, but in some ways no. Last year's team was just, honestly, happy to be there, like a kid in a candy store. We had no expectations," he said.

"This year's team, there's all the other expectations since the beginning. So far, they've handled it with the poll, the national poll," he said, alluding to USA Today's Super 25 rankings. Punahou is ranked 15th nationally.

"They've taken up a mission statement like the girls soccer team that defines what they want. It helps them deal with external pressure. Coach (Chris) McLachlin has helped them a whole lot.

"We don't own anything. We aren't defending anything. The difference is this team knows how to deal with distractions and that can help our younger players," Kadooka said.

"Hopefully, we play the kind of baseball everyone respects."

The Buffanblu feature a plethora of talented players, including college-bound seniors Landon Nakata, Kasey Ko and ace Jared Pate. Juniors Steven Dannaway and Christian Aona are also parts of a deep, multi-faceted dynasty in the making.

But don't say the D-word to Kadooka, who has reservations aplenty.

Kadooka on Kamehameha, a team Punahou played three times in ILH battles: "Thank God they're not in our bracket. Them, Mililani, Kailua, Baldwin, that side is so loaded. Last year, we were unseeded and had to go through the gauntlet."

Conversely, elite competition is the rule, not the exception.

"At some point, it doesn't matter. You just play who they tell you," Kadooka said.

Kadooka's pros and cons to playing on opening day: "Not playing that first game can be tough. Everyone gets nervous that first game, so the teams that play the first day have that advantage over teams that are rested. It's a nervous excitement.

"But again, the pitching matchups favor the teams with the bye. I'd rather be the seeded team any day, but it's the state tournament and even if you've been there 10 years in a row, each team is a different team."

Kadooka on Pate and kitchen sinks: "Well, I don't wanna say exactly what we're going to do with him. We'll throw the kitchen sink in the first game 'cause there's no tomorrow. If they're gonna beat us, they're gonna beat us at our best."

Kadooka on Punahou's next opponent: "Pearl City, my take is they're a young team, but very scrappy. They showed that they can play with anybody. They're a handful. They've played in the state tournament I don't know how many years in a row, more than us.

"Same thing with Kauai with Kirby Yates, who might be the best player in the state. They're very young, as well," he said. Kauai and Punahou were at Maui's preseason tournament.

"We were gonna play each other, but both of us ran out of pitching, so we agreed to not play. Kauai resembles their coach (Hank Ibia), fiery and disciplined, always try to put pressure on you all the time. Yates throws 88 to 90 on his fastball and he throws a curveball and changeup."

Kadooka on AstroTurf, the playing surface at Murakami Stadium: "You can't simulate the AstroTurf, and nobody's allowed to go to the stadium to practice."

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