OIA Baseball
Surfriders overcame shaky start to win league crown in 2016


Sat, Mar 5, 2016 @ [ 3:00 pm ]

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Kailua 1 010410772
Moanalua 0 0 10007872

W: Tyler Trim    L: Dustin Imanaka

MOA: Andrew Oasay 1-4 run 2 rbi dbl; Skyler Yamamoto 3.0 IP 2 ER
KAIL: Dalton Kalama 1-4 run 3 rbi HR; Joey Cantillo 5.0 IP 1 ER 3 K

The month of March proved to be quite beneficial for Corey Ishigo and the Kailua Surfriders during the 2016 prep baseball season.

It just didn't always appear that way from the outside looking in.

To say that it was a shaky start to the regular season for Ishigo's group would probably be an understatement. Not only did the Surfriders drop three of their first five games in Oahu Interscholastic Association Eastern Division play, they blew a late-inning lead in each of those defeats.

But Ishigo knew that at that point, he still had time on his side.

"I like to lose," Ishigo said. "Not at the end of the year, but the beginning, when you can still make changes and work on things you need to work on. You can see a lot of things early in the year. If you lose early in the year, you can fix things. If you lose late, it's just too late to fix."

Kailua's first loss that year  — at Moanalua on March 5, 2016 — was, well, quite an epic one. The Saturday afternoon away game for the Surfriders came just three days after an 8-3 home win over Castle in the regular-season opener.

Ishigo noted that with just an 11-game preseason, he still had much to figure out about his team that early into the regular season.

"Yeah, for sure. We didn't have a set lineup, we didn't even have a set infield and outfield at the time," said Ishigo, who had a large number of multi-sport athletes on his roster.

Against Na Menehune that sunny Saturday in Salt Lake, the Surfriders started junior left-hander Joey Cantillo on the mound. The 6-foot-5 Cantillo — now a member of the Cleveland Indians organization — threw five innings of three-hit ball before being pulled with a 6-1 lead.

"I thought we were looking good early with Joey on the mound. He was in command of the game and we felt really confident toward the end," Ishigo said. "Joey was still on a pitch count, even though there was no pitch count in high school at the time, we had our own with him and we wanted some guys to get some work in."

Kailua took an early 2-1 lead after three innings and then had a four-run fifth on Brendan Odo's RBI ground-rule double and Dalton Kalama's three-run inside-the-park home run. Cantillo added an insurance run with his solo homer over the short right-field fence to make it 7-1 after six innings.

Cody Takabuki pitched a perfect sixth inning in relief of Cantillo, but ran into trouble after retiring the first batter in the bottom of the seventh. He gave up a run on an RBI-single by Kekaulike Kalua and two more on an Andrew Oasay double to left to cut Kailua's lead to 7-4.

"Takabuki threw a good sixth inning and I wanted to push him to go one more. One of our coaches, the brother, Todd, wanted me to take out Cody and I wanted Cody to get more work in. I should have pulled him, but I wanted to let him finish and then once Moanalua got rolling it was like it couldn't stop. By the time I brought Dustin in, it was pretty hard to stop that," said Ishigo, who lifted Takabuki for closer Dustin Imanaka after the Oasay double.

Imanaka was greeted by a line single off the pitcher's glove that scored a run to make it 7-5. He then drew an apparent ground ball off the bat of Randy Tabura, which led to a force out at second base for the second out, but the baserunner was instead ruled safe due catcher's interference to load the bases. Imanaka then walked Mark Kitano-Maguire to bring in the tying run.

"The catcher's interference killed us, too, from a catcher I just put in that inning or the inning before. I wanted to get him some work in," Ishigo said. "I think we could have got out of the inning right there when that happened and then Dustin was wild."

After Moanalua's Ryne Oshiro was caught stealing home — which allowed both trail runners to move into scoring position — Cody Isa hit a grounder that was misplayed by the shortstop and allowed Tabura to score the winning run.

"All those things just added up and we lost," Ishigo said. "We thought we could finish it and we didn't and so it was good thing for us. I had to play guys to see if they could play or not play."

Moanalua sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs to win it in walk-off fashion.

In the immediate aftermath of loss, however, Ishigo recalled a collective even-keel demeanor from his senior-heavy team.

"I don't remember them being down. I don't remember myself being so upset about this game, but I was kind of glad it happened. It probably felt like on the bus ride home that ‘we know we're good, but there's still stuff we gotta work on,' but with these guys they're pretty resilient these group of boys we had because they took their beatings too when they were freshmen, got to the OIA championship game when they were sophomores but we got pounded by Campbell, so this team's goal was to win it all," Ishigo explained.

But there would be more bumps in the road following the Moanalua loss. Just four days after that came a 2-1 road defeat to Kalani.

The Falcons scored the tying run in the sixth inning and the winning run in the seventh to rally past the Surfriders behind a complete-game two-hitter from Mid-Pacific-transfer Connor Zalewski.

"It was a close game all the way to the end and then we made a throwing error on a bunt play and that was a walk-off there on that," Ishigo detailed.

The losing pitcher in that game was once again Imanaka, the reigning OIA East Player of the Year and a Second Team All-Hawaii selection as a junior.

"He had a great junior year, so that was kind of unusual," said Ishigo, who never wavered on Imanaka's role as the team's go-to arm in high-stress scenarios.

He said of the 5-foot-6 right-handed pitcher and shortstop: "I knew Dustin since he was a kid and he made errors before in big situations and that never changed his attitude or the way he worked about the game and I always liked him at the end of games — hitting, pitching, stealing a base, doing anything for us at the end of the game — so there was no way I was going to stop using him, but it was probably good for him to get hit a little bit and to be wild, so he could focus more on his pitching, too."

Kailua evened its record with a lopsided 31-1 win over D2-Kaimuki, but a week later blew a three-run lead at home in a 6-4 loss to Roosevelt, which rallied with a five-run sixth inning.

"At that point it was like, ‘OK, we can't lose anymore.' We knew that and the pitchers had to be more sharp at the end of the game," Ishigo said.

With starting pitchers Cantillo and Stone Parker still building their pitch counts, it was clear that the Surfriders needed other arms to step up in the late innings.

"With Joey and Stone we could get through five, but they couldn't finish (games) yet — but we knew when playoffs come they could go 110 (pitches), so they'll be ready by then — but we still needed other pitchers to be ready," Ishigo said.

Kailua once again evened its record with a 10-1 win at Kaiser four days after the Roosevelt loss. Three days after that, Ishigo's bunch got above .500 for the first time with a 10-9 win at Castle, but it came at a costly price as senior second baseman and pitcher Brendan Odo suffered a season-ending injury during the game.

"He was pitching and he went for a fly ball and he and the third baseman collided; broke his ankle," Ishigo said.  

But the Surfriders rallied around Odo after the injury.

"They would go to his house almost every night to hang out there with him or his family and it wasn't one or two guys, it was a bunch of guys, daily, and that's how I know they grew close. It felt like a real Kailua team at that point," Ishigo said.

Odo's injury galvanized Ishigo's squad just when it was starting to turn the corner.

"I think we still weren't good yet and we knew we were, but we weren't playing well as a team. That never clicked until Brendan Odo got hurt and then that's when everything fell in place — he was a huge part of our team, that's why," Ishigo explained. "He was our motivator, our leader, everybody loved him. Once he went down that Castle game, it was like, ‘OK, they got it.' That's when they got it, that ‘we're not good anymore because we gotta do something because he's out.' Up until then they were just waiting for the next guy to do it, waiting for each other instead of doing it themselves."

The wins began piling up and by the time the 12-game regular season had come to a close, the Surfriders were riding seven-game winning streak. They finished second in the East standings and had a first-round bye in the 12-team OIA tournament before punching their ticket to states with a 10-3 win over then-reigning league champion Campbell in the quarterfinal round.

The day after they dethroned the Sabers, Kailua knocked off previously-undefeated Pearl City in the semifinals by a score of 9-3.

"We felt pretty confident going into the championship game and they just wanted to finish it off and win that OIA," Ishigo said.

The Surfriders would face a familiar foe in Kalani — the top seed out of the East — in the OIA title game at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu the following night.

Ishigo gave the ball to Imanaka to start against the Falcons and the senior turned in 5 1/3 innings of work. Kailua held a 7-2 lead through five innings and made sure there would be no late-game heroics from their opponent this time around. Cantillo got the final five outs in relief of Imanaka to record the save and clinch the 13th OIA championship in program history.

"They deserved that one because nobody counted us in," said Ishigo, of his seventh league crown in his 18th season in charge of his alma mater.

When the final out was recorded, there was one player that the rest of the team gravitated to: Odo.

"We had shirts printed that said, ‘Do it for BO,' and the craziest thing was that they all went to him after the game. They were all on the field coming in the dugout to grab him," Ishigo recalled.

The Surfriders' victory was their 10th consecutive win and seized their first OIA title since 2012.

Odo was one of 13 seniors out of 24 total players on that team.

"The most memorable thing about that season was when Brendan got hurt during the year and then the team came together. I knew we were good in the beginning, just because of these guys, most of them been starting as freshman and it was their senior year, so I thought we had a really good team, but it wasn't until Brendan got hurt that they came together," Ishigo reaffirmed.

As one of four league champions, Kailua had a bye in the opening round of the state tournament in the first week of May, but lost to Campbell, 5-0, in the quarterfinals and then was eliminated with a 7-2 loss to Waipahu in a consolation game the next day.

The Surfriders finished the season with a 12-5 record. They landed eight players on either the All-OIA East first or second teams, including Cantillo, who earned Player of the Year honors. Cantillo was also a First Team All-Hawaii selection, while Imanaka earned second team recognition as a utility player.

Kailua went on to repeat as OIA champions the following season, when Cantillo earned All-Hawaii Division I Player of the Year distinction before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 16th round (468th overall) of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft that summer.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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