Talented, hungry Punahou opens ILH season with Kamehameha

Punahou's Ethan Nagamine, second from right, celebrated with teammates after scoring a run in the seventh inning against Kamehameha in this 2020 matchup. The spring season was cancelled shortly after. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

When the 2020 spring season was cancelled, defending state champion Punahou was ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10.

Now, in April of 2021, the regular season is about to begin. It just won’t be under the sunshine. Punahou will open with rival Kamehameha tonight as the Interscholastic League of Honolulu starts an abbreviated schedule.

“We are grateful the seniors get to play their final games. Our 2020 and 2021 classes have had to learn a valuable life lesson: you can’t always get what you want. What has impressed our staff is the boys’ ability to reframe the situation, especially the ’21 seniors,” Punahou coach Keenan Sue said. “They have matured exponentially due to this pandemic. They have made some concessions compared with a normal year, but also realize that compared to many others, they still have so much to be grateful for. We couldn’t be prouder of the men they’ve become.”

With just seven regular-season games and a single-elimination tournament to follow, it is half of what it normally is. With off-campus fields inaccessible for most of preseason, the Buffanblu squeezed in scrimmages where they could.

“We are grateful to Mid-Pacific coach Dunn Muramaru, his staff and Athletic Director Scott Wagner for extending an offer for us to play there,” Sue said. “Without their invitation, we would have not had any scrimmages in the preseason.”

Punahou also held junior varsity and intermediate games on its small field on campus.

“It was nice to see the schools look out for each other whenever possible. It’s a good reminder that despite the fact we all wear different colors and compete against each other, the priority for all schools is the betterment of all the kids,” Sue said.

Punahou’s talent and depth remain, but without a full season last year, the slate is a blank canvas.

“None of our players this year have ever played a full season of varsity baseball save for three boys that have only a few games under their belt from 2019 and 2020. Our entire roster is essentially comprised of varsity rookies,” Sue noted. “We see that as a great opportunity for them and they’ve done a wonderful job preparing well this preseason with great energy and intent. We’re so excited for them to get out there and compete for each other and their school.”

The roster includes players who have Division I college offers though they have not played varsity baseball yet. Among them is Texas A&M commit Kaikea Harrison, a junior shortstop. Junior Cody Kashimoto committed to UC Santa Barbara. The most experienced returnees among the juniors are catcher Justin Tsukada and Kashimoto, an infielder.

“They, along with senior Patrick Munley, are the only three guys left from our 2019 state championship squad,” Sue said, recalling the state tourney at War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku. “They understand what is required to prepare properly and keep a cohesive team. Our other seniors — Rylan Burigsay, Kikaha Nakamura and Ryne Umemoto — have all helped us bridge the gap this year that we missed, and have helped show the newcomers how we go about our business. Their maturity and steady demeanor helps keep the culture strong.”


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