Falcons Face Knights For Baseball Opener

The first in a series of prep baseball previews

The search for a coach on the field has been a priority for baseball head coach Shannon Hirai during Kalani’s preseason slate.

“The key to our season is going to be our leadership and whether they can step up and start pushing,” said Hirai. “If they can do that, we’ll be all right. None of these kids have been in that position (of having to lead) before, so we’re struggling a little.”

In the all-important area of talent, however, Hirai likes what he sees. “I think we have a good mix of guys who have played a lot the last few years and some young guys who are ready. Our pitching staff will be experienced.”

The Falcons are hoping to build off of last season, when they went 6-5 in the ultra-competitive OIA East. A 3-2 loss to Waipahu in the first round of the East tournament ended their season and their bid for a state berth.

Kalani’s pitchers likely will figure big, should the Falcons return to the state tournament in 2015. Headlining the returnees are juniors Reece Kakugawa and Matt Beall. Both are three-year players in the program, having been moved up as freshmen. Kakugawa has been a starter since, while Beall will transition from being a reliever to a starter this spring, according to Hirai.

“Reece will be our ace on the mound,” he said. “He’s our most experienced since he started as a freshman, and he’s been pitching well of late. He has a lot of movement on his pitches and is kind of unconventional.

“Matt has been pitching well enough lately that he will be our No. 2 pitcher at this point. His control is his biggest asset. He goes in with no fear and goes after batters.”

Sophomore Micah Kawano should also boost the team. “He’s always around the plate (with his pitches).”

Also back are juniors Jaryn Wee (shortstop) and Reyn Shitanishi (third base, catcher, first base), and senior Justin Ibara (second base).

“Jaryn has good range and is definitely one of our better players, defensively. He also has some power — he just a hit a home run the other day against Waipahu.

“Reyn is probably our best hitter right now, and his leadership has been good. Justin batted over .400 as backup second baseman last year.”

Hirai also is projecting newcomers Hunter Lau (third and second base), Bronson Matsumoto (catcher) and Kohl Suehiro (out-field/lead-off hitter) to have an immediate impact. All three were key players on Kalani’s JV team in the fall.

The Falcons are hoping a brutal preseason slate against ILH teams will benefit them in the OIA season. Kalani played Iolani three times and also played Kamehameha, Mid-Pacific, Saint Louis and Punahou.

The Falcons open their season Saturday with a road game against Castle. “Castle is very athletic, and they always do well,” Hirai said of the Knights. “It should be a really tough game. We have to put a full seven innings together. We’ve played well in spurts, but we haven’t been able to play a complete game yet — which might be good, since it means we haven’t peaked.”