Na Koa take opener
WAILUKU – This is exactly what Kalaika Kahoohalahala has dreamed about.
The only Mauian on Na Koa Ikaika’s roster was stellar in the field and had a three-run triple in the middle of a nine-run sixth inning, leading the way to a 9-2 win over the Ishikawa Million Stars in Tuesday night’s season opener at Maehara Stadium before a crowd of about 800.
“I was feeling good. I mean practice pays off, you know,” the 2006 Maui High School graduate said between signing autographs. “I saw some pitches and I hit them hard. I have been focusing on fielding – pretty much, I just have to make the plays.”
After giving up the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, Na Koa erupted in the bottom of the inning.
Brandon Gregorich drove in Na Koa’s first run and scored on a double to deep right field by Ray Serrano.
Nick Valdez popped to shallow center for the second out with the bases loaded, but D.J. Dixon walked before Kahoohalahala’s triple on the first pitch from reliever Azuma Shinozaki made the score 6-1.
Mililani graduate Waylen Sing Chow’s second single of the inning brought in another run, and Gregorich later doubled again, to center, to drive in two more.
That loud noise ended what had been a quiet start to the game. It was also more than enough for Maui starter Jesse Smith, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and left after seven, allowing two hits and one run. He struck out four batters, walked four and hit one.
“I got in some jams and my teammates made some good plays behind me,” said Smith, a former Triple-A player.
A few of those came from Kahoohalahala, who had four assists in the first four innings and added three putouts.
“I love that guy,” Smith said of his second baseman. “Kalaika is an awesome player, him and Sing Chow (who was in center), both the Hawaii guys. Those guys play hard and they are fundamentally sound. Ka-laika is just solid in everything he does. He plays great defense, he’s got a great arm, hustles, plays hard, and not to mention he had a couple big hits tonight. He has become a real good player for us the last couple years.”
Na Koa, who batted just .243 as a team last year, piled up 10 hits Tuesday.
“Oh man, we have got everything, we have got pitchers, we have bats, basically everything,” Kahoohalahala said.
The first hit of the game did not come until the late-arriving crowd was well settled-in, when Gregorich singled to left with one out in the fourth.
Yuki Oukubo, Ishikawa’s No. 9 hitter, led off the sixth with a line-drive single to left. Consecutive pinch hitters then reached base, and Smith walked Katsuaki Furuki on a 3-2 count to force in a run.
Kahoohalahala had back-to-back sparkling plays in the top of the fourth. He grabbed a line drive off the bat of Manabu Sasazawa for the second out, then went farther up the middle to snag a roller off Smith’s glove before turning to fire an off-balance throw that beat Kazuya Akiyama by a half-step.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
Kosuke Nakagawa, Azuma Shinozaki (6), Syota Matsuda (6), Yoshida Shinji Mori (8) and Manabu Sasazawa, Ryota Naya (6), Kazuya Akiyama (8); Jesse Smith, Byron Minnich (8), Jason Norderum (9) and Nick Valdez. W-Smith, 1-0. LNakagawa, 0-1. 2B-Maui: Ray Serrano, Brandon Gregorich. 3B-Maui: Kalaika Kahoohalahala.