Seasoned Mustangs’ Pitching Is Key For Division II Play

For members of the Kalaheo baseball team, it’s hard not to look upon 2015 as the “payoff year” on their investment. After two years of competing in Division I with one of the youngest rosters in the state, a more-seasoned Kalaheo team returns this spring to try to make a run in Division II.

All told, eight members of Kalaheo’s 24-man roster have been with the program for three years or more.

“We’re very excited,” third-year Kalaheo head coach Jerry Bush said. “We’re senior-laden. We have pitching and we have depth for the very first time. Pitching will be our key. When I arrived three years ago, we didn’t have any. You have to have it in baseball, and we have the experience now — and the arms.”

The return of senior center fielder Jack Bell is among the reasons for optimism. Entering his fourth year as a starter, Bell was chosen as an OIA Red East Second Team All-Star last spring in a vote of league coaches at season’s end.

“He’ll hold down center field and be one of our team leaders,” Bush said of Bell. “He’s a great athlete.”

Kalaheo’s prospects received a further boost last week when the Mustangs added five players who had been on the school’s basketball and soccer teams.

The timing worked perfectly for coaches to integrate the latecomers, since Division II begins its regular season more than a week later than Division I teams. The Mustangs had all of last week to practice as a full team before turning their attention to this Saturday’s OIA opener at Aiea (3 p.m.).

Among players who joined the team last week are Kaleb Gilmore, and Kekai and Jalen Smith, from Kalaheo’s state championship basketball team, and soccer standouts Tennison Cantrell and Thomas Capllonch.

“Kaleb pitches and plays shortstop — he’ll be one of our better ballplayers,” Bush said of Gilmore, who transferred to Kalaheo from Maryknoll last summer. “Kekai is going to help us, too. He’ll play second or third, and he pitches. He can play anywhere, and Jalen will pitch and play outfield.

“Thomas has been with us three years, and he was our shortstop last year,” Bush added of Capllonch. “He may be in right, center or left (field). Tennison has a lot of versatility.”

With that in mind, Bush’s philosophy is to regard his players as generalists rather than specialists.

“In three years, we’ve made them (seniors) move around and play different positions,” he explained.

Bush also has high hopes for veterans Brandon Burton, Chase Focht and Kaliu LaPera. “They’re athletes,” Bush said of the trio.

While pitching figures to be among the strengths for Kalaheo this season, Bush also is looking for more support offensively. “I’d like to see our bats (come around) more, and I’d like to see more line drives than popups,” he said.

On the heels of Saturday’s game at Aiea, Kalaheo will play its home opener next Wednesday (March 18) versus Kahuku at Kailua District Park. The Mustangs’ home slate also includes games against McKinley (March 25), Waialua (April 1), Nanakuli (April 4) and Farrington (April 18). Kalaheo’s road schedule includes games against Farrington (March 21), Kapolei (March 28), McKinley (April 11) and Kahuku (April 15 at Hauula Playground).