When Kila Kaaihue talks, it’s easy to tell what’s important to him regarding his Kaiser baseball team.
Is it winning? Yes. That’s the name of the game. But that is far from the only concern.
The Cougars are 1-0 in playoff games under Kaaihue after Wednesday’s 9-5 home victory over Aiea. Today will be a tougher test — at top-seeded, undefeated Campbell (12-0), the second-ranked team in the state.
“Going into it (against Aiea), this (a slugfest) is not the way I thought it was going to turn out,” the coach and former major-leaguer said. “We misplayed a couple of balls that turned into hits. We swung the bats good. (Aiea’s Kobe) Kato is a good pitcher, he’s got good stuff and he’s dominated before. Our boys are battling and getting better every day. It’s awesome. I’m excited to see (the Campbell matchup). We want to play the best. We’ve seen (Kailua ace) Joey Cantillo twice. We’ve seen everybody’s ace twice. It hasn’t been an easy road.
“We’ve gotten so much better and that’s really all I’m concerned about — how we’re playing at the end and we’re playing really good ball,” he added. “Actually, he boys have been playing really good baseball all season, though we hit a rough patch in the beginning. But even those games were good. We were in every game except the Roosevelt game (a 9-1 loss).”
Today’s task for Kaiser (8-5) in the Oahu Interscholastic Association quarterfinals is a tough one. Campbell boasts ace pitcher Markus Ramos, although it’s not known if he will start.
“They’re No. 1 (seed) for a reason and we’re excited,” Kaaihue said.
Against Aiea, Kaiser batters tagged Kato for 10 hits and seven runs in four innings, with four batters — Keoni Pangan, Kainoa Craig, Antonio Omphroy and Kennedy Chun — collecting at least two hits.
In addition, four Na Alii runners were thrown out on the basepaths, including two on close plays at the plate.
Aiea watched its season end and its comeback attempt fail. Kato hit a home run in the fifth to get Aiea to within two at 7-5, and then Na Alii stranded the bases loaded in the sixth and two runners on base in the seventh.
Aiea coach Ryan Kato became a believer in Kaiser’s ability.
“That’s going to be a very tough team to beat,” he said. “They’re really skilled with the bat.”
In two games against the Sabers in the regular season, Na Alii lost 10-0 and 4-3 in 10 innings.