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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Kailua's Kekaula found groove in striking fashion

All-state baseball team
All-league baseball teams

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

After a slow start, Kawika Kekaula finished hitting .509 with 26 runs batted in 16 games. He struck out once all year.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

In what may be remembered as "The Year of the Strike," Kailua High School's Kawika Kekaula knew how to throw them and learned when to swing at them.

Kekaula, the Surfriders' do-everything standout on a baseball team without real stars, was named The Advertiser's State Player of the Year after voting by 21 coaches, sports writers and close observers from around the state. Kekaula edged Mid-Pacific Institute pitcher/first baseman Ricky Bauer for the top honor.

Kailua's Corey Ishigo was named Coach of the Year, garnering more than four times as many votes as MPI's Dunn Muramaru and Moanalua's Scott Yamada.

Kekaula and Ishigo were regarded as two of the main reasons why the Surfriders (14-1-1) won their first state championship since 1969.

Kekaula did not begin his senior season as a Player of the Year candidate. In Kailua's first four O'ahu Interscholastic Association games, he had only three hits before the 20-day Hawai'i State Teachers Association strike interrupted the season and snapped the slump.

"He was trying to do too much in the beginning; he felt he had to carry the load for us offensively," Ishigo said. "He was pressing and he put a lot of pressure on himself."

The result, Kekaula said, was a lack of discipline at the plate.

"I wasn't picking the right pitches," he said. "I was swinging at everything."

On April 5, the strike abruptly halted all official practices and games, but Kekaula didn't stop swinging.

"We had some guys come out and take batting practice," he said. "That's when I started swinging at the right pitches."

In the first game back after the strike ended, Kekaula went 3-for-3 against Farrington.

"My confidence started building after that," he said.

Through the postseason, Kekaula ended up batting .509, including seven doubles, one triple, one home run and 26 RBIs in 16 games. He struck out only once all year.

In addition, Kekaula provided solid defensive support at three positions — third base, catcher and pitcher. He was 3-0 on the mound, and was the only Kailua catcher who could handle junior Chad Kajiyama, Ishigo said.

At third base, Kekaula gobbled up every ground ball and line drive.

"Anything hit in his direction was a guarantee out," Ishigo said.

Kekaula seemed to save his best performances for last. In six postseason games, he batted 13-for-24 (.542) and made three appearances on the mound. He was named Most Valuable Player of the state tournament.

"He was the catalyst, he was the glue to that team," Campbell coach Lane Watanuki said. "He looked like their leader."

Kekaula said he will continue his playing career at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Calif. LMC's head coach is Carl Fraticelli, a former standout at Kalaheo and Loyola Marymount.

Ishigo, a 1990 Kailua graduate and former University of Hawai'i infielder, guided the Surfriders to their second straight OIA title and kept them focused even after Mid-Pacific jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the state championship game.

"They clutched up in the end, and you gotta give Corey credit," Watanuki said. "When they fell behind, you could kinda feel like the boys were hanging their heads, but Corey got them going again."

Watanuki said Kailua's title was even more significant because the strike had supposedly put the OIA at a disadvantage.

"It was David vs. Goliath, and David won," Watanuki said. "It was good for the OIA."

The All-State team includes two third basemen, Kekaula and Milt Grado of St. Louis, because they tied in the voting. Even if Grado had edged Kekaula at third base, Kekaula still would have made the first team as a utility player because that spot was reserved for the player receiving the most votes outside of the first-team position players.

Instead, that "wild card" utility spot went to Mililani pitcher/outfielder Gainor Nitta, who tossed two one-hit shutouts and batted .393.

There are three utility players on the second team because Kamehameha's Hubert Pruett and Kailua's Kamaile Santos tied in the voting, and the third utility spot went to Maui pitcher/outfielder Allen Castro, who went 4-1 with an 0.84 ERA and batted .556.