Leilehua’s Success In Classroom Highlights Athletic Effort

Batting averages and earned run averages aside, the numbers Leilehua head baseball coach Lane Watanuki is most concerned about this spring are the players’ grade-point averages.

With that in mind, 2013 already has been a successful campaign, to hear Watanuki tell it.

“A lot of times, people will define your success based on wins and losses, but in the bigger picture, it’s about building character and steering kids in the right direction,” said Watanuki, now in his fifth year at Leilehua following a 20-year run at Campbell. “I feel best about how we’ve made strides in the classroom. If we’ve developed a lot of good, respectable kids who are accountable to themselves, then I’ll feel like I have done my job.”

The Mules also have fared well on the playing field in the OIA Red West conference, which frequently is regarded as the state’s most competitive. That is certainly the case again with Aiea, Pearl City, Waipahu, Mililani and Leilehua all separated by a game or less behind runaway league-leader Campbell.

Leilehua took a 2-3 mark into last week’s game with the Sabers, and it had a two-game win streak before that game, with victories over Mililani 3-0 and Kapolei 5-4. Leilehua’s losses have come to Campbell 3-1, Pearl City 12-6 and Aiea 10-9.

“The West is certainly balanced,” Watanuki said. “It’s a matter of who comes to play on that particular day.”

For their part, the Mules’ on-field focus has been on “pitching and defense,” according to the coach. “We preach pitching and defense like most programs because those are things that we can control. In the games that we lost, like Aiea and Pearl City, those are the areas where we made mistakes.”

Overall, the Mules have one of the younger lineups in the OIA, with under-classmen filling no less than six or seven slots on game day.

“A lot of them have come straight from the JV team, but we don’t care about their age, and we don’t use inexperience as an excuse – they’re expected to compete right away. Although baseball is a team sport, if everyone competes to the best of their abilities individually, the team usually does well.”

It has fallen to seniors Brandon Smithe (pitcher/infielder), Cody Academia (outfield/pitcher) and Ian Kaopua (catcher/pitcher) to provide leadership. All three are having solid seasons this spring.

“They set the tone, and they set an example for the younger kids,” Watanuki said. “They’re good kids, and they know the expectations.”

Like their Red West counterparts, the next few weeks will be all about positioning for the OIA’s post-season tournament. The top six teams from both the East and West make the cut. Leilehua returns to action Wednesday when it hosts Pearl City. Games also remain with Aiea (March 29, at home), Mililani (April 3, away), Kapolei (April 6, away) and Waipahu (April 13, at home).