There are rivalries that take on a semi-friendly tone.
This one was far from it. When Kalani visited Kaiser on Friday afternoon for an OIA East baseball game, both the visiting Falcons and the home plate umpire were targets of verbal abuse from Kaiser players and at least one Kaiser supporter in the audience.
It was an exceedingly feisty effort by the Cougars, who won 5-4 in an upset of the fifth-ranked Falcons. Three Cougars were tossed from the game, including center fielder Keoni Pangan and two coaches. One of them was head coach Ryan Umemoto. All the ejections had to do with unsportsmanlike comments coming out of Kaiser’s dugout, directed at Kalani players or chief umpire Ken Nagasawa.
Kalani coach Shannon Hirai did not appreciate the apparent unsportsmanlike tactics by the host team.
“It’s hard for us to ask teenaged kids to control their tempers,” said Hirai, who watched carefully as his team filed out of the facility after the game. “Being singled out like that, there’s only so much they can take. The first time we played them (on Mar. 16), it was the same thing.”
The warnings from Nagasawa began in the first inning. He cautioned Kaiser first baseman Kainoa Torres, and in the bottom of the inning, he issued another warning toward the Cougars’ dugout. By the second inning, Nagasawa heard more unsportsmanlike banter and called Umemoto to the plate.
“They just wouldn’t stop taunting, making derogatory comments to the other team and to the umpires,” Nagasawa said. “Their coach lost control of the team.”
Umemoto wouldn’t identify the player who made the most recent comment.
“He said, I need an identification or you’re out. I don’t want my players out,” Umemoto said.
He was ejected and spent a couple of innings standing near the dugout behind the fence. Nagasawa later directed him to leave the field, and Umemoto said he watched from atop of the hill behind home plate.
Nagasawa was also verbally threatened by a Kaiser fan, who yelled, “I’m going to get you after the game,” from the fence behind home plate and again near the Kaiser dugout. Nagasawa said he instructed the site manager to provide an escort for the umpire crew after the game, but there was none, he said. The site manager was nowhere to be seen.
The spectator who threatened Nagasawa was seen after the game questioning the umpire. Nagasawa was walking toward the parking lot when the spectator started walking along side him, criticizing and questioning him about the warnings and ejections, arguing that “getting in the heads” of Kalani’s players is part of the game. He also told Nagasawa that he “should go back to umpire school.” There was no physical confrontation.
Umemoto noted that umpires normally leave the field via the right-field foul line exit near the parking lot. Nagasawa and his field umpire departed through the exit next to Kaiser’s dugout, next to the bleachers.
For Umemoto, the repercussions of ejections and comments won’t take away from the team’s “most complete” performance of the season.
“It doesn’t take away from the win. It’s two teams going at each other,” he said, almost acknowledging the intensity of the rivalry. “I’ll say this: it feels good. Every year, it’s like this, regardless of where we are in the standings.”
At the time Umemoto was ejected, Kaiser starting pitcher Kamalu Simeona had just struck out his fourth Falcon and Kaiser was coming up to bat in the bottom of the second.
“I was still confident in my team. The kids said, ‘Coach, we got your back!’ They stepped up today,” he said.
The taunting issue resumed late in the game, when Nagasawa ejected Pangan during the seventh inning. Pangan’s father, an assistant coach, approached Nagasawa and wound up getting tossed, too.
Kaiser got on the scoreboard in the first inning when Pangan led off with an infield single and later scored on a two-out single to right by Torres.
Kalani bounced back with two runs in the top of the third. Kohl Suehiro singled to left and later scored on a single to center by Hunter Lau to tie the game. After a Kaiser infield error and a walk loaded the bases, Jarryn Wee’s groundout brought Kyle Sasano home from third for a 2-1 Kalani lead.
Kaiser responded with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Torres singled to right and advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt by Kalani pitcher Connor Zalewski. Torres scored on a one-out single to left by Emett Garcia, and Garcia later scored on a single to left by Kennedy Chun. That gave Kaiser a 3-2 lead.
The Falcons rallied in the top of the fifth. Sasano led off with a walk and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Wee, tying the game at 3.
Again, Kaiser answered right away. In the bottom of the fifth, Lincoln Lima singled with one out and Emmett Covello doubled to right with two outs. Garcia then grounded to short, where the shortstop, Wee, misplayed an in-between hop. Lima scored to give Kaiser a 4-3 lead.
In the sixth, Antonio Omphroy walked with one out and advanced to second on a passed ball. Another errant pickoff throw by Zalewski allowed Omphroy to move to third, and Omphroy scored on Simeona’s triple to left.
Coincidentally, though Umemoto had his differences of opinion with Nagasawa, he thought the umpire did an otherwise sound job.
“I thought he called a good game (at the plate),” Umemoto said.