Spartans’ Kadooka at corner of patience, urgency

Maryknoll's Shane Himeda slid in safely at second for a stolen base against Punahou at Hans L'Orange Park. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Maryknoll’s Shane Himeda slid in safely at second for a stolen base against Punahou at Hans L’Orange Park. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Somewhere between the seven baseball state championships (2004-10) at Punahou and this first season as head coach at Maryknoll, Eric Kadooka has transformed and evolved one step at a time.

Losing, though, still leaves a bitter taste. When he looked across the diamond at his former program, Kadooka saw the Buffanblu, a 7-5 team in a ruthless ILH chase, armed with talent and experience and depth up and down the roster.

Maryknoll head coach Eric Kadooka looks down while standing in the dugout during the sixth inning of an ILH baseball game against Punahou on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at Hans L'Orange Park. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser (Mar. 28, 2017)
Maryknoll head coach Eric Kadooka looks down while standing in the dugout during the sixth inning of an ILH baseball game against Punahou on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at Hans L’Orange Park. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser (Mar. 28, 2017)

His own Spartans? Young. Just three senior starters, including ace Matthew Dunaway. The right-hander hurled a gutsy game against No. 7-ranked Punahou, allowing just one hit, an unearned run, in going the distance in a 1-0 loss. Five strikeouts, seven walks, 99 pitches. Punahou’s run came after a pop fly was dropped and was aided by three walks, including one that forced the go-ahead run home. It was just one more example of how close and how far Maryknoll is from the elite of the ILH and the state.


Punahou, in impeccable Under Armour faux flannel, dry-fit uniforms, continues to embrace its tradition.

Punahou's throwback uniforms were designed by Coach Keenan Sue as an homage to the Pal Eldredge-era Buffanblu. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
Punahou’s throwback uniforms were designed by Coach Keenan Sue as an homage to the Pal Eldredge-era Buffanblu. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

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“Look good, and theoretically play good,” current Buffanblu coach Keenan Sue said. “But for us, it hasn’t quite been the case.”

The uniforms they wore on Tuesday night are a throwback to a time when Pal Eldredge was the head coach. The wide sleeves. The stylish ‘P’. The high hem and striped leggings. Not every high school team will accept tradition to this extreme, but to a man, every Buffanblu wears the retro unis spot on.

Sue’s memories of Buffanblu baseball are vivid and fresh. Eldredge’s 1989 team, which included Kyle Hoshide and Chad Konishi, was the last one to win a state crown under him. It was that era that inspired Sue, who designed the current Buffanblu uniform. In Sue’s senior season, ’97, the Buffanblu featured Justin Wright (Stanford, Florida Marlins) and reached the state final before losing. Soon after that, Eldredge retired from coaching.

During Kadooka’s reign, Punahou built up an arsenal of surplus talent, particularly on the mound. One season, they had 13 pitchers, all of superior talent and skill. Kadooka went back to the ‘40s and ‘50s for inspiration when it came to their threads. The blockish ‘P’ on their hats came from that long-ago period, and though new uniforms came along, Kadooka kept his teams in those same uniforms throughout that unparalleled and unprecedented title run.

Uniforms aren’t the only thing that the coaches pay mind to. Punahou has gotten a key edge with the success of senior pitcher Kyle Uemura, who tossed six scoreless innings against Maryknoll for the win. Even on a night when Uemura, a craftsman who relies on guile, doesn’t have his best, he kept Maryknoll off the scoreboard.

“I just didn’t feel it with my legs,” the senior said of warmups in the pen. “I tried to keep it low, stick to my process. Listen to my body.”

Punahou senior Kyle Umeda hurled six scoreless innings against Maryknoll.
Punahou senior Kyle Umeda hurled six scoreless innings against Maryknoll.

Kadooka knows Uemura quite well.


“Last year, I’m not sure if he got cut or didn’t play much. He wasn’t on their fall team,” Kadooka recalled. “So he played with us. I still have a soft spot for Punahou kids.”

On Tuesday, however, Uemura was the opposition. Dunaway was at times masterful.

“Matt’s been doing this every game this season except for one,” Kadooka said. “He deserves better.”

Maryknoll senior ace Matthew Dunaway fires a pitch during the first inning against Punahou. In seven innings, he allowed no earned runs and struck out five. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser
Maryknoll senior ace Matthew Dunaway fires a pitch during the first inning against Punahou. In seven innings, he allowed no earned runs and struck out five. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser

Maryknoll’s youth, the change in culture, the elevated standards — Kadooka had hoped for better results, and though he has patience, it remains to be seen how much he still has. At 1-11, it’s sometimes difficult to see the silver lining.

It is there, though. Their two Intermediate teams combined for six wins after going without a victory last year. The bulk of the young talent is in seventh grade, Kadooka said. If they’re ready the day they become eligible for varsity baseball, they’re going on the field. The younger group is already acclimated to workout standards. The older group hasn’t quite bought into the blueprint.

“I don’t really have three years or whatever time it might take, but we’re still teaching. This is life. I’m seeing things from the opposite side now,” Kadooka said. “In 20 years, I’ve never seen so much parity in the ILH.”

The sun was falling over the Leeward Coast, and Hans L’Orange Park’s lights turned the scenario into prime time as the Buffanblu and Spartans departed to clear the way for the second game of the twin bill between ‘Iolani and Kamehameha.

Kadooka may not be as secretive with his pre-game lineup, or as feisty as he was during his time at Punahou. However, on Tuesday he picked his spots and raised questions with the umpiring crew just the same, hands in pockets, a diplomat with persistence. Down 1-0, he let his hottest hitter, Shane Himeda, swing away in the top of the seventh with no outs and runners on second and first.


Limitations in other areas have brought Kadooka to a different strategy. With Dunaway near 100 pitches, Kadooka measured his options and determined that his team was better off swinging for a two-run inning rather than attempt to bunt and settle for (probably) one run.

He was willing to weigh the reality, and long after talking with his team, it all made sense. Sure, a young team went 0-for-3 in the final inning with a runner in scoring position, and a potential go-ahead run on first base. Kadooka could play it safe and be content to stay close. But even now, he wants to know what he has. Hope is a good place to start, but he will continue to damn the torpedoes and get a much better sense of what he has in these final three games. The future of Maryknoll baseball won’t be about settling, and it is being built today brick by brick, one step at a time.

COMMENTS

  1. AOK March 30, 2017 12:51 pm

    Justin *Wayne


  2. Education First March 30, 2017 4:48 pm

    Greatest High School Baseball coach in the history of Hawaii.


  3. Realist March 31, 2017 4:32 am

    Greatest baseball coach? Easy to win with talent. Can you coach and develop kids and win with lesser talent? Obviously not just by reading this. Sounds to me he blaming the kids now and the program he inherited and banking on his so called gem of a 7th grade class to start winning again! Your a coach so be a coach and develop the kids you get now instead of making excuses.


  4. Education First March 31, 2017 9:46 am

    Realist March 31, 2017 at 4:32 am
    Greatest baseball coach? Easy to win with talent. Can you coach and develop kids and win with lesser talent? Obviously not just by reading this. Sounds to me he blaming the kids now and the program he inherited and banking on his so called gem of a 7th grade class to start winning again! Your a coach so be a coach and develop the kids you get now instead of making excuses.
    ———————–
    If winning with talent is so easy, then why hasn’t Punahou won a single title since he left? With all that talent, you would figure they could easily replace the coach and win 1 title right? Last time I checked, Punahou hasn’t won or often didn’t even make state since the coach left.

    Kamehameha, MPI, and Iolani have tons of talent. They have never won 7 in a row. I mean, has KS and Iolani even won one? Has MPI ever won 3 in a row?

    We are talking 7. That is unheard of and outstanding.

    No coach in Hawaii will go into a losing program that has a history of losing and will turn in around in 1 year. Let’s see how they look in 4-5 years.

    Please ask around the ILH, many ILH coaches are noticing that Maryknoll is getting better, far more than their record would indicate.

    Last time I checked he is coaching. And when you win 7 titles and you are the greatest Hawaii HS Coach in history, you get a little latitude to express your opinions.

    #7inarowiscrazy


  5. Education First March 31, 2017 9:59 am

    Realist March 31, 2017 at 4:32 am
    Greatest baseball coach? Easy to win with talent.
    ——————————————-
    So Realist, based on your comment above, are you saying that Punahou is the only team in the History of Hawaii HS Baseball to have talent? I say this because I do not see any teams winning 7 titles in a row. And if it’s so easy to win 7 in a row with talent and no other team has won 7 in a row, that must indicate no other teams in history are talented. Is that what you are saying?

    I see two teams, MPI (90-92) and Iolani (96-98) who have won 3 titles in a row. I see a few who won 2 in a row, Baldinw (59-60), KS (87-88), Molokai (99-00). But I do not even see a team with 4 in a row and this guy won 7 in a row.

    I could understand if the moment Coach Duke left Punahou and they continued to win or at least won a few. They have never won 1 single title in the 6 years since he left and I believe they didn’t even make it to state on many of those years.

    So Realist, please explain to me how it’s so easy to win 7 titles in a row:

    1) When no other team hasn’t even come close (no one has more than 3 in a row)
    2) Punahou has no won a title in the past 6 years since Coach Duke left
    3) Punahou has missed on out making states in approximately 4/6 years since Coach Duke left given Punahou has so much talent.

    Please explain to me all these things. Right now with no explanation, you look like a jealous parent or a fool.

    Please prove to us that you are neither. Thank you.


  6. Realist's Dad March 31, 2017 2:15 pm

    Realist has no clue about coaching baseball. First off 7 years in a row is not easy! Obviously no one will come close to that in the state of Hawaii. We’re talking about 3 different generations of high school classes who had to go through the same boot camp to get to that level of winning state titles. At one point I believe it was a national baseball record until recently Bishop Gorman beat that record.
    Anyway, Education First is right. Punahou hasn’t been the same since he left. They made 2 appearances in States since his departure and both teams lost in the 1st Round! One of those teams had Top Tier D1 Players on their team and they still lost. They had the talent even afterwards and still couldn’t put it together to get out of the first round.

    He will probably develop a winning program at Maryknoll in a few years, you can already see the improvements from this first year. The record might not show it, but the games are a lot closer than what the scores indicate. Good luck to Coach Kadooka at your new program.


  7. Education First April 1, 2017 12:07 am

    Totally agree @ Realist’s Dad.


  8. MSB April 1, 2017 11:25 am

    Fyi, Education First, Maryknoll doesn’t “have a history of losing”. They won 3 DII titles in a row ’13-’15.


  9. Education First April 1, 2017 3:30 pm

    My apologies. I am talking D1 with the big boys. Is there really a D3 baseball league? Are you being serious? Or is this April’s Fools?


  10. Realist2 February 22, 2018 10:55 pm

    How many Championships has Kadooka won with Maryknoll? He can’t lead a team with lesser talent. Besides, you don’t gain respect by swearing at your players.


  11. Realist2 February 22, 2018 10:59 pm

    Oh Education First, please explain how he abused Punahou players, made them walk back to campus from the Ala Wai, and never helped any of his players get a scholarship.


  12. Realist2 April 12, 2018 8:21 pm

    Well Kadooka fails again. Now he wants to merge with Pac 5 or Saint Francis. He failed the Maryknoll baseball program.


  13. Realist2 May 13, 2018 9:31 pm

    Kadooka won 7 despite himself. He’ll never win again. He had talent that he abused. It’s true that once he left, Punahou never won again. Bit that is less about Kadooka’s abilities vs. the ineptitude of the next coaching staff.


  14. Been There March 1, 2019 1:15 pm

    Kadaooka’s players loved him at Punahou. He came in with a plan for the program as a whole and he built a system that made the best of the amazing resources at his disposal. There are tons of schools with talent, but it takes something special to get that talent to play to the best of their abilities – consistently for years on end. Coach Eric did that. There’s a lot of animosity at Punahou too, it’s tough to make the team and even tougher to get on the field. I’ve seen a lot of negativity coming from that. Many kids with talent never get to play, but coach Kadooka inspired loyalty and was loyal right back. He demanded that the team work hard and remain accountable to each other. 7 straight is remarkable and many players went on to successful college careers and he also bred a love of the sport. Kudos to Kadaooka.


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