Cantillo’s curve ball makes a return

Joey Cantillo is a big reason Kailua has won the OIA East regular season. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.
Joey Cantillo is a big reason Kailua has won the OIA East regular season. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

Trust is a mighty big part of success, none more so than in big blue country.

When Joey Cantillo took the mound against Kalani yesterday with first place in the OIA East on the line, the Kailua ace was in a place that few high schoolers dwell in. The site was Kaimuki’s diamond — Kalani’s home games are on ice until its adopted City and County field is playable — but Cantillo and his arsenal of weapons are as cerebral as they are physical.

The 6-foot-4 senior crafted a 10-strikeout, complete-game victory as No. 7 Kailua outlasted No. 8 Kalani 6-1 on a sunny afternoon. The honor-roll student has more than accepted the fact that he has yet to master all his pitches. He does much more than just get by, though. His fastball, which was somewhere in the low to mid 80s last season, whistled by at 88 mph consistently on Wednesday, as it has all season. His change-up, highly effective. But on this day, it was the return of his curve ball that made it tantalizingly fun — not so much for Kalani’s hitters.

“It’s the first time this year I have three pitches working,” said Cantillo, who issued three of his five walks in the seventh inning.

He finished with 107 pitches. The last time he faced Kalani, he struck out 18. Cantillo is now 5-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 55 Ks in 34 innings pitched. And he’s also hitting over .500 between duties at pitcher and first base.

For Cantillo, ultimate fun is not an option only because he yearns for his slider to become a force. Coach Corey Ishigo has no designs to spend more time on honing that pitch than necessary. He believes good high school hitters can hit the slider, anyway. Mastering the heater, change and curve — coming from the release point of Cantillo’s long wingspan — are more than enough. That wicked, wicked curve ball.

“We’ve been fine-tuning it,” Ishigo said. “It’s the curve we’re used to seeing.”

Catcher Kalua Neves, who blasted a solo homer in the seventh inning, has been Cantillo’s battery mate for just this season. He transferred from Kamehameha.

Kalua Neves homered against Kalani in Kailua's win. (Apr. 5, 2017)
Kalua Neves homered against Kalani in Kailua’s win. (Apr. 5, 2017)

“We just need to be consistent with our hitting. Our defense is doing good,” he said of Kailua, which was error-free.

Kailua also turned its bats into attack mode early on.

“Our coaches wanted us to wake our bats up earlier and get the first pitch,” Neves said.

Kailua, which also has a solid No. 2 starting pitcher in junior Stone Parker, is now 9-2 in the East. First place is a lock, as is an opening-round bye in the OIA playoffs.

“That’s huge in baseball,” Ishigo said, adding that Parker will still get the start on Saturday in a home game against Moanalua.

That game won’t have a bearing on Kailua’s place in the standings. Kalani (8-3) could win its final game and possibly finish with the same win-loss record as Kailua, but the Surfriders swept the two-game regular-season series and has the tiebreaker.

The Falcons swept Moanalua during the regular season, so a Moanalua win at Kailua in two days won’t have a bearing. Kalani has second place locked up, and an opening-round bye in the playoffs. The mental and physical mistakes haven’t been common.

“It’s something we need to figure out. It’s only against Kailua,” Falcons coach Shannon Hirai said. “We’ve done a lot better job putting the ball in play, but when things go bad, we’ve got to figure it out.”


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