Strong Defense Should Impact Knights’ Baseball Season

Solid pitching and mistake-free defense have always characterized championship-level teams. And the Castle baseball team will bank on both as it progresses through its OIA Conference slate.

“Our strength has been our defense, and that’s the side we needed to work on this year the defensive side,” said first-year head coach Rocky Fraticelli. “We have seven different guys who can pitch, and we’re working with an eighth. We’ve been very happy with our pitching.”

The Knights opened their season by dropping a pair of heartbreakers to neighboring Kailua 7-6 and 2-1, then saw the first game of a two-game series with Kaiser cancelled because of heavy rain late last week. Both teams were hoping to make up their game over the weekend. (They also were to meet Saturday in a previously scheduled game.)

This week, the Knights host Kahuku at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and visit the Red Raiders at 2 p.m. Saturday. Despite the 0-2 start, the Knights were encouraged by the Kailua series, committing only three errors in three games versus the Surfriders, who were last year’s OIA East champion.

Fraticelli had a long successful stint as Castle basketball coach before taking on baseball during the offseason. He quickly assembled a high-profile staff that includes younger brother and former Saint Louis head coach Duane Fraticelli as well as longtime fellow coaches Kerry Okumura, Laramie DeSoto, Don Hugo and Sam Kakazu.

“We have a new slogan: New year, a new look and a new attitude,” Fraticelli said. “We’re a new staff (to Castle), and we’re doing some things differently than in previous years here.”

Besides veteran coaches, the Knights also will have veteran leadership on the field with seniors Dustin Nakayama, Eric Akamine, Froy Smith, Zephan Mukai, Manoah Medrano and Chaz Kobayashi.

Kobayashi and Mukai are usually first and second in the batting order. “Chaz’s on-base percentage was .475 in the preseason, so he has a good eye,” Fraticelli said of Kobayashi, the team’s starting second baseman. “He drew 13 walks in 11 games. We’re waiting for him to start swinging the bat a little more.

“Like, Chaz, Zephan finds a way to get on base,” he added of left-fielder Mukai. “His on-base percentage is pretty good; he’s consistent.”

Akamine is among the team’s most versatile players, playing third base against Kailua in the first game before switching to center field in the second one. “He made three major league catches, two of them diving against Kailua.”

Nakayama is the coach’s No. 1 pitcher for now. “He throws in the mid-to-high 80s and is also a good student.”

Smith plays shortstop when not pitching. “He played very well in the preseason and had a good game against Kailua.”

Medrano transferred from Myron Thompson Academy and has quickly assumed the catching duties. “He’s been pretty consistent behind the plate.”

Juniors Micah Camara and Christian Kapeliela also were impact players in the early spring. Camara is an outfielder, while Kapeliela plays third base and usually hits clean-up or in the fifth spot in the batting order.

Castle’s next home date is March 31, when it hosts Roosevelt in a double-header.