The red birds of Kalani Valley are red hot.
With a 2-1 win over No. 8 Kailua on Wednesday, the Kalani Falcons are a resounding 3-0 in OIA East play. Back up the tape and Coach Shannon Hirai’s team is on a hot roll. They went 3-0 in Mililani’s preseason-ending tournament, and before that, the Falcons haven’t lost since falling to Mid-Pacific in the Kitamura Tournament. The Falcons were newly-minted as a Star-Advertiser Top 10 team on Tuesday, just before their battle with Kailua.
“I’m not too surprised. I thought we could progress especially with the pitching, especially with Connor,” Hirai said.
Connor would be Connor Zalewski, a hard-throwing pitcher who arrived during his senior year from Mid-Pacific. It’s the same Zalewski who MPI ace Chase Wago mentioned during an interview recently. Wago misses his old pal, but Zalewski is entrenched in his new home.
“It’s kind of a blessing because our ace, Reese Kakugawa, is injured,” Hirai said. “He’s playing, but he’s not fully recovered so Connor has his spot and the other guys have really stepped up.”
Zalewski went the distance in a two-hit, seven-strikeout performance against Kailua, one of the East’s perennial powerhouses.
“Connor has pretty good pitches. I think they have him around 87 (mph) on his fastball,” Hirai said. “He has a fastball, change-up, slider. He can throw any of those pitches. He’s comfortable with it any time in the count.”
Zalewski was injured last season and didn’t pitch for MPI during the varsity season. He returned healthy in the summer for MPI’s American Legion team.
“We faced him, so it’s kind of funny,” Hirai said.
The win streak, and especially the OIA East wins over perennial East contender Moanalua and Kaimuki, have been team efforts.
“Starters we’ve got maybe four guys. We’ve just got a whole bunch of guys with different looks,” Hirai said.
Junior Devin Omura brings a Bill James-favorite quality.
“He’s a submariner. He’s got a low three-quarter sidearm,” Hirai said.
Christopher Nam, a 6-foot senior, is a crafty right-hander.
“He’s more off-speed. He did really well in AJA for Waialae,” Hirai noted.
Another reliever is junior Micah Kawano, who just returned from the basketball team. He’s been a key part of the relief corps since his freshman year.
Harrison Moy, a junior, has stepped up as a varsity starter
“Harrison throws a little harder. He was our JV ace. He’s come a long way,” Hirai added.
It’s been some time since the Falcons were in the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10. Hirai says this may be one of his best teams since Ridge Carpenter was an all-state player back in 2007. Carpenter was later drafted in the 32nd round by the Boston Red Sox, played at Cal State Northridge and played three seasons of minor league ball at Winnipeg and Sioux Falls.
“Depth-wise, yeah, it’s one of our better teams,” Hirai said. “For our kids, our varsity has been competitive but we haven’t had a real good run in awhile. It’s good for the kids to know they belong up there. The ILH and OIA, everybody’s beating each other. It’s nice to be in the rankings, but trying to stay there is a different story.”
Early as it is, Hirai sees a lot of potential.
“We haven’t really reached our peak yet. We’re slowly starting to come around and our kids are starting to believe after two close games against Moanalua and Kailua yesterday, and in the preseason we were able to beat Punahou, so yeah, the confidence is getting there.”
That extra boost may come later from a strong sophomore class.
“Even our sophomores who came up from the JV have stepped up. I don’t know how much we will use them, but they’ve done pretty well,” Hirai said.