Keenan Sue says the Punahou Buffanblu don’t see a lot of off-speed pitches on a daily basis, not like before.
In years past, there were some pitchers who relied heavily on finesse. The staff has a lot of fireballers now, and when it came time to face Damien’s crafty River Iaea, timing was often not there.
Punahou got enough offense, despite a 1-for-13 combined hitting performance from batters one through four, to eke out a 3-0 win over gritty Damien in an ILH regular-season opener on Tuesday afternoon at gusty, cloudy Ala Wai Community Park.
Landon Carter’s three-hit shutout, including seven strikeouts, two walks and one hit batter, was Punahou’s first of the season. In 10 preseason games — 8-1-1 coming into the regular season — the Buffanblu pitching staff allowed only one run on four different occasions, but had not thrown a shutout until Tuesday.
They needed it in a pitchers’ duel. Iaea had his team in a 1-0 game into the fifth inning. He finished with five strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter. He scattered seven hits and allowed just two earned runs. One of them came on Kade Morihara‘s solo home run to right, a long ball that carried with the strong winds blowing toward Waikiki.
“Iaea is a great pitcher,” Sue said. “He does a great job. He throws a lot of strikes. He mixes it up. He keeps guys off balance and that’s what pitching is, it’s upsetting timing.”
Punahou stranded nine runners against Iaea. The Monarchs just need a break or two, but that never came as Carter grew stronger with each inning on the mound. Damien kept it close with stellar defense. But for ever solid play by Damien, Punahou matched it.
“Shout out to all the guys on defense who came up making great plays. Makana (Murashige) at third base. Aaron (Tom) in right field on that fly ball,” Carter said.
The wild wind made it an adventure on several fly balls and pop-ups. Damien left fielder Braeden Halili and center fielder Jonah Kaaa-Grune came up with diving catches, and shortstop Jordan Donahue took control on a few high, swirling pop-ups to short left field.
Each pitcher also had a pickoff at first base.
“To be fair, (Carter) doesn’t have the greatest pickoff move, but I guess if you do it enough, you keep them honest,” Sue said. “And their pitcher did a great job of holding runners on first. That was pretty lucky, I think we called the right pick because I think they were trying to steal on that one. They were trying to get something going. Both teams’ offenses were slim to none to start.”
Carter’s progress has been enjoyable for the coaching staff to watch.
“He has good mound presence and he’s very confident in himself because he works hard,” Sue said. “We talk about preparation gives you the confidence to compete. He does a really good job of working his process and he’s pretty poised out there. He has done a lot of work in the offseason. We came with what we thought was our best guy today. We’ve got another guy for Mid-Pacific on Thursday. Landon’s definitely one of our top two or three pitchers.”
Carter had issues with the mound in the first two innings. Punahou practices occasionally at Ala Wai, staying on campus to work out most days. He went to the stretch to start the second inning and found his groove.
“We were more going out there and attack. Our pitching coach talks about getting results in four pitches or less. Keep the pitch counts low and keep the ball in play, not trying to get too fancy,” he said.
“(Carter) was efficient with his pitches,” Donahue said. “He mixed it up when he had to. Half of our guys weren’t in the lineup last year, so that was good for someone who could command the ball like he did.”
Carter’s counterpart, Iaea, batted second in the Damien lineup.
“He’s a good pitcher. He caught me with a couple of curveballs. He’s got some nice touches on his off-speed pitches,” Iaea said.
Iaea’s ability to throw at various speeds with the same throwing motion isn’t common.
“It was about off-speed pitches, throwing them off with fastballs coming in, change-ups after the fastballs, then coming in with the fastballs and it feels like it’s 100 mph,” he said.
Iaea doesn’t throw with the same velocity as another Damien ace, Bryce Uyeno, but between the two, the Monarchs have a formidable combo on the mound.
“River mixed it up really good today. He had command of his curve ball. The change-up is normally a pitch he has better command of, but he got stronger as the game went along,” Donahue said.
The Monarchs will play Kamehameha on Thursday at Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park.
“I thought our guys played well. It’s good to see that we were there, but it’s getting old to say you’re close,” Donahue added. “Sometimes we need that hit, we need this and that, but a lot of things got to go right for us this year.”
Meanwhile, Punahou is glad to get past another dangerous D-II team in the ILH. Sue views this year’s squad a bit differently, but is highly optimistic.
“This team is different. These guys are more like dogs. I would love to say pit bulls, but these guys are like golden retrievers,” he said. “They love each other. They work hard for each other. They hang out with each other off the field. They’re just, the love that these guys have for each other is going to be the differentiator for them this year. They’re playing for each other, not for themselves. They don’t have any guy who thinks he’s better than the rest of them. They genuinely really love each other. I’m excited for them.”
At Ala Wai
Punahou (1-0) 010 010 1 — 3 7 1
Damien (0-1) 000 000 0 — 0 3 2
Landon Carter and Matt Nishimura. River Iaea and Michael Kawasaki. W—Carter. L—Iaea.
Leading hitters—Punahou: Koa Eldredge 2-3, run, SB, BB; Kade Morihara 2-4, HR, RBI, run. Damien: Kaysen Kajiwara 1-3, HBP, SB; Jordan Donahue 1-3; Bryce Uyeno 1-3.