Kahuku Facing Critical Games

The OIA White Conference baseball playoffs may still be a month away, but with the season akin to a sprint rather than a marathon, the post-season is already in focus for league teams.

Count Kahuku among those with critical games this week. The Red Raiders visit Farrington Wednesday and play a road game with Kaimuki Saturday.

“Those would definitely be big games,” head coach Darren Johnson said. “We just have to play better defense, keep making contact and score some runs.”

Farrington and Kaimuki are teams the Red Raiders traditionally have fared well against on the diamond, and wins over both would help get them back to the .500 mark. Kahuku’s schedule is among the toughest in the league, having opened with McKinley before playing traditional power Waianae. It dropped a hard-fought 4-3 decision to McKinley and was overwhelmed by Waianae, which is in its first year in DII, 16-0 in their second game.

“We played well against McKinley, but against Waianae, we couldn’t make the routine plays,” said Johnson, whose team was to play Radford last Saturday. “Our pitchers have been throwing strikes, but we definitely have to be more sound, defensively. We saw that in our game with Waianae. If we can get back to the basics, we’ll be OK.”

Johnson praised the play of shortstop/pitcher Laakea Graycochea, catcher PJ Liua Jr., and infielder/pitcher Liko Vea. The trio has been team leaders to date. “Laakea has played very well – we can put him anywhere. PJ and Liko also have played very well. Hopefully, they can continue to get better.”

The top four teams earn berths from the East for the OIA DII tournament with the top three finishers from the post-season moving on to the state Division II baseball tournament in late May. Kahuku last made states during the 2008 and 2009 seasons under Johnson’s predecessor, Roger Van Ness. Among the priorities in the coming weeks will be to manufacture more runs. “We’re swinging a little better – we just have to keep making contact,” said Johnson, who is assisted by coaches James Prim and Kamaka Primacio.

“We’re going to get better and better. Baseball is still not a sport the kids play year-round in our community, but they’re not going to make excuses. They’re hard working kids who play hard (on game day). They’re an easy group to coach.

“My assistants have a lot to do with our program,” he added. “They do an outstanding job.”