Winning a state championship requires three wins in three days — and sometimes even four in four days.
A dominant pitcher can get a team into the semifinals, but it generally comes down to the guys down-staff that make the difference between hoisting a koa trophy or not.
For third-ranked Punahou, that guy is turning out to be junior left-hander Koa Eldredge. A receiver on the football team with 15 touchdown receptions and more than 1,000 career receiving yards, he’s also an outfielder for the Buffanblu who didn’t throw a single pitch last season as a sophomore.
That has changed this year after he pitched in the summer and again in American Legion ball in the winter after the football season ended.
In three starts during the ILH regular season, his numbers have been good, and got even better on Tuesday.
Eldredge struck out seven in 4 1/3 shutout innings to lead the Buffanblu to a 4-1 win over a senior-heavy St. Francis team that was ranked in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 this week for just the second time ever.
Three of Eldredge’s seven strikeouts came in the first two innings and were all looking as the Saints struggled to figure out his funky motion from the left side.
“This is the first year I’ve started to take pitching seriously,” Eldredge said. “Today I was focusing on getting my off-speed over and it’s starting to work. It was a good day to see my curve ball was going for strikes.”
In 13 1/3 innings in ILH play, Eldredge has given up 11 hits and just two earned runs. He’s struggled at times with command (eight walks) but makes up for it with 17 strikeouts.
“He’s got a lot of movement up there and I think that throws guys off,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said. “He works deep in the count but he’s effectively wild — that classic baseball saying he’s effectively wild. He’s like the poster child for that.”
The Buffanblu have senior returnee Matt McConnell, who threw three pitches — all strikes — to save the Buffanblu’s win over the Saints on Tuesday at the top of the rotation. Senior Landon Carter has also stepped up in an increased role this season.
The Buffanblu will play six times over the next 13 days to close the regular season and Eldredge’s development will not only help during that stretch, but also at the end of the year should the Buffanblu continue on their path toward a state tournament berth.
“He’s just an athlete and a competitor and I really like that about our multi-sport guys,” Sue said. “They are just out here playing and tend to have a really strong competing mind-set. I really like that about Koa and our other multi-sport guys.”
Eldredge, one of five sons of David “Boy” Eldredge, Punahou’s softball coach and a former college baseball head coach, obviously has baseball in his blood. But his new role as a pitcher could make a difference if the Buffanlu can cash in for their first state championship since the streak of seven straight from 2004 to 2010.
“We take every day pitch by pitch and I know that as the year goes on, our pitching and our bullpen is getting deeper and deeper,” Koa Eldredge said. “We’re getting enough reps where come state tournament time I feel like we’ll do well.”