A veteran coach like Keoke Behic has the countenance of a chef undertaking a massive task.
Urgency? Check. Patience? Of course. Perspective? Infinite. Kapolei’s 9-2 win over Mililani in the OIA regular-season opener for each team was, first and foremost, just one game. But with the OIA West looking more and more like a newer version of the ILH in recent softball seasons, the win was huge.
Beating defending league champion Mililani is a rare feat. Doing it with a powerful performance from former Maui High standout Cira Bartolotti might be a slight bit misleading. It wasn’t just Bartolotti, but any writer would have to spotlight the junior in a lead paragraph.
>> Two monster home runs for five RBIs — a three-run shot in her first at-bat, and a two-run tater in the seventh inning — along with two runs scored.
“The first one, I think it was inside,” Bartolotti said of the pitch. “The second one, I think it was outside.”
She took that pitch to the deepest part of right-center, what some hitting coaches believe is the territory of true hitting skills.
>> A complete-game win on the mound, seven innings, three hits allowed, two earned runs, nine strikeouts and five walks.
“Cira did a great job,” said Behic, who guided Pearl City to the state championship in 2006.
The good news for Kapolei isn’t just the arrival of Bartolotti. As Behic, their first-year head coach says, the Hurricanes are a balanced force of nature. Eight of their nine starters got at least one hit against Mililani’s talented ace, Joie Baker.
Leadoff hitter Lili Kaimi-Montira was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. Kiley Ozaki, batting in the No. 8 spot, was 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs. In this lineup, Ozaki is more like clean-up hitter of the second set.
Kapolei was flawless in the field until the final inning, so it’s not a stretch to consider the OIA West completely up for grabs. Not with Leilehua’s hitting and — with the addition of former Maryknoll pitcher Cameron Kamakaiwi — pitching depth. Of course, there’s the behemoth dynasty, three-time defending state champion Campbell.
In fact, what makes the OIA and its glut of state-tournament berths so magnificent is this: any of the aforementioned teams from the West, along with potentially Roosevelt from the East, could take the state title. Of course, it’s not automatic, but Campbell didn’t win the OIA once in the past three seasons while going on to capture states.
Pearl City, with Behic at the helm in ’06, didn’t win the OIA that year. With six state-tourney berths, it’s viable that a team that doesn’t win the OIA title can or will win the state crown. The numbers almost work against the league champion. Naturally, any team would rather have that first-round bye at states, but with four OIA West teams among the first five in the Star-Advertiser Softball Top 10, it would behoove scouts to secure a comfortable headquarters in West or Central Oahu.
Kapolei was No. 4 in the first poll of the season released on Monday. Campbell is No. 1, Mililani No. 2 and Leilehua No. 5. Roosevelt, which walloped Kailua 14-0 in five innings earlier at Tiger Softball Stadium, looks like one of the deeper, skilled teams.
Rankings are many things to many people. To Behic, it’s neither a gauge nor heartfelt. Unless the discussion revolves around the dynasty in Ewa Beach.
“We’ll embrace it, but again, Campbell is the three-time defending champs,” he said. “Tomorrow and Thursday, it’s very important for us to refocus and get in the weight room.”
Bartolotti was a raw talent last season at Maui High. She is taller, stronger, more chiseled. She’s only a junior.
“My mom lived here with my two brothers and sister. I was living with my dad on Maui. It’s actually been really good,” she said. “A great bunch of girls.”
Behic’s years as Pearl City’s head coach until ’14, then as an assistant at Campbell, provide a unique perspective.
“This team is different. They’re very close,” he said. “They really want what’s best for each other.”
With that, a Kapolei supporter passed by and suggested that the coach should wear his lucky shoes at every game. Behic was perfectly comfortable in purple at Pearl City and orange at Campbell, but the Kapolei teal seems like the right fit.