Kaipo Haole is a ninth grader.
He pitched in two games for Baldwin’s varsity team.
When Coach Jon Viela gave him the news that he would be their starter in the state championship game, Haole went through a gamut of emotions. Then he pitched 4 stellar innings, allowing just one run, as Baldwin defeated Pearl City 5-1 on Saturday night at Iron Maehara Stadium.
That capped a perfect 17-0 season for the Bears.
“I just came out here to have fun,” said Haole, who missed starts during the MIL regular season and playoffs due to a foot injury. “I was pretty stoked when I found out I was going to be on the mound today. I was really nervous last night, but this morning, I got up. I had some butterflies on the way down to the cage and to the field. Once we got here, I was ready. I wasn’t nervous.”
On a team as talented as Baldwin is, there’s still no overlooking the youth factor. There were a bunch of freshmen who had moved up from the JV (winter season) roster.
“We knew from the preseason,” Viela said. “Our pitching coaches, we collaborated and we knew Kaipo would be our No. 3 guy. We have arms, but he’s got something special.”
After Haole’s efficient stint, it was Nigel Mayfield’s turn. He was almost spotless, permitting just one baserunner, a hit batter in the seventh inning, over three innings. His development is one of the many reasons why the Bears ascended to a higher level.
“Nigel has stepped up unbelievably. He didn’t even pitch last year,” Viela said. “This year, he came in and offered the team something nobody knew he had. He did very, very well with his role.”
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” said Mayfield, a junior. “I don’t know what it was. I was just working out in the offseason. My mentality, of course, going out there not just throwing. Pitching, actually.’
Shortstop Haloa Dudoit and his fellow returning starters were as impressed as anyone.
“This is what it’s about. This should be their motivation. They want to pitch in the situation. This is the situation you want to be in,” said Dudoit, who scored the winning run in the semifinals against Campbell. “To step up, the way that Kaipo and Nigel did, it’s amazing what they did.”
“Our coaches had trust in them,” said sophomore third baseman Chayce Akaka. “So we had trust in them. We’ve always got to back up our pitchers.”
The mainstays like sure-handed infielders Dudoit (3-for-11, .273 in the state tournament), Akaka (5-for-10, .500, walk), second baseman Jacob Chong and first baseman Nainoa Keahi (2-for-7, three walks), and left fielder/pitcher Damien Awai (3-for-8, walk, HBP), center fielder Nawai Ah Yen (5-for-10, walk, HBP), right fielder/pitcher Kawena Alo-Kaonohi (2-for-9, two walks) and designated hitter Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa (2-for-10) fit together seamlessly. Catcher Taje Akaka started when Cade Kalehuawehe was injured earlier in the season, and Kalehuawehe returned healthy for the state tourney. Akaka and Bobby Drayer, provided valuable roles as courtesy runners when they didn’t start. Drayer, who started in right field against Campbell, put his speed to work, scoring the tying run in the comeback win over Campbell.
Alo-Kaonohi and Awai, in particular, brought the Bears huge performances on the mound. Alo-Kaonohi permitted just one run and scattered five hits in a complete-game win over Waipahu in the quarterfinal round. He walked just one and struck out five, including a fourth inning when he struck out the side.
Awai was especially gritty in the semifinals as Baldwin rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to edge a Cinderella Campbell squad, 3-2. Awai finished with a three-hitter, striking out six, walking one and hitting two batters.
“Everybody understood their role on this team and that’s what made them so successful,” Viela said. “They were never envious of the next guy. They embraced their role and they did whatever they needed to help the team to be successful.”
Chayce Akaka celebrated with his teammates, coaches, family and friends, but he recalled an early-season turning point.
“Our retreat. We had team bonding at Coach John’s house,” he said.
Viela uses the time with his team to mentor life skills. People skills.
“We did it during spring break, so it was during the season. My wife and I, we do that every year. The whole idea is just to create a tighter bond among our boys and let them know everything outside of baseball that’s important. When we go into the retreat, it’s all about life lessons. That’s very important for them. When we send these kids off into the world, I know they’re going to be prepared for it,” he said.
“He was getting us ready for this right here,” Awai said. “It’s a bond. Everyone just gets along with each other every single time. We pick on each other, but it’s like friends. We’re only futting around. It’s a bond we have.”
They were mindful, of course, of Coach Viela, a 24-year coach in the program, including the last nine as head coach. Viela, a physical education and health teacher at Baldwin, leaves to become the athletic director at Kamehameha-Maui after the academic year ends.
“It means a lot. We just came out here, do us, and built history here,” Keahi said. “Build a legacy. We just did it for him. This is his last year. He’s a big impact in this school, in this program. I learned from him not about baseball, but being a better person in life. Nothing’s going to change. Same program, same coaches except him.”
Next season isn’t far away. Instead of being the sleeping giant from Maui, the Baldwin Bears will have the role of favorite in a state full of extremely talented, young programs.
“We’ve got to work hard again next. Come out with the fire,” Awai said.
For the few seniors on their way to graduation, a perfect finish to a perfect season.
“We did it for Coach Viela. We always had a confidence in each other,” said Ah Yen, who plans to attend the University of Northern Colorado. “Friends for life. Brothers. Play together. Love each other. Do it for everybody. We just had a good chemistry. We all just played as one. Good teamwork. Everything is for the team. Got to be positive.”
For Viela, a former University of Hawaii infielder, the time for change is right.
“I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss being with all the boys. I’ll be missing the day to day, baseball practices and games. Nevertheless, it’s an opportunity I have,” he said. “It’s time. I’ve learned from a great man. Kahai Shishido has taught me a lot of things in my life and I’m ready, but it’s a bittersweet moment. I won’t be able to coach. That’s a bittersweet thing about it.”
Now Viela will move on and become a coach of coaches as an administrator. He hopes to always have an influence on youth.
“I think that’s a new generation of baseball players. They’re very successful at playing the game right. I told all the boys, have respect for this game because this game has been very, very good to a lot of people in Hawaii. They go and they play the game right, and when they play the game right, they, you know, they become very good people. They become very good ballplayers,” he said. “I think that’s very important for them.”