Training and technology: Softball’s sonic boom of long balls

Leilehua's Kawena Kahana-Travis (10) was greeted by her teammates at home plate after hitting one of the 36 home runs blasted in the 2019 state softball tournament. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

The numbers tell us something drastic has happened in the world of high school softball, and fans are applauding from end to end on the bleachers.

Batting numbers are up. Way up. So are pitching statistics. The trend has been real in the past two years, perhaps three.

Compare the last two state softball Division I tournaments. A month ago, teams combined for 13 home runs. On day one. That alone surpassed the long-ball total of 12 for the 2018 tournament as a whole (elimination games only). By the end of the ’19 state tourney, there were 36 HRs, led by Leilehua (12) and champion ‘Iolani (seven).

2018: 12 HRs (elimination games only)
Day 1: 4 HRs
> Punahou 2, Leilehua 1, Pearl City 1

Day 2: 4 HRs
> Leilehua 2, Pearl City 1, Punahou 1

Day 3: 2 HRs
> Leilehua 1, Punahou 1

Day 4: 2 HRs
> Leilehua 2

2019: 36 HRs (elimination games only)
Day 1: 13 HRs
> Leilehua 4, Kapolei 3, ‘Iolani 2, Baldwin 1
Kaiser 1, Roosevelt 1, Waianae 1

Day 2 (quarterfinals only): 14 HRs
> Leilehua 4, Baldwin 2, ‘Iolani 2, Lahainaluna 2, Punahou 2, Campbell 1, Roosevelt 1

Day 3 (semifinals only): 7 HRs
> Leilehua 4, Baldwin 2, ‘Iolani 1

Day 4 (final only): 2 HRs
> ‘Iolani 2

Leilehua coach Wendell Au has spent much of his life around the game, year-round, coaching and traveling in the offseason. It’s a way of life. Along with year-round training and specialization, Au sees what the evolution of bats in the post-aluminum era has done for softball players.

“Everyone talks about technology, but it’s something you can’t stop. That’s the bottom line. If you compare, one hot bat over the past few years, everyone’s looking for that. Regardless of technology, you’ve still got to put the bat on the ball,” Au said. “There’s more hitting coaches than pitching coaches. You can take a baseball bat and work swings, work hitting. People can work on it off YouTube. Hitting is more well-defined. Pitching involves heart, experience. You have to have the goods. Hitting, everybody has a chance to be a hitter.”

Here’s another perspective, a unique, if small sampling: the Star-Advertiser All-State first team of 2019 vs. the All-State first team of ’18.

By group, not including pitchers.

2017: Total 82 HRs, 208 RBIs (10 hitters)

2018: Total 70 HRs, 242 RBIs (10 hitters)

2019: Total 78 HRs, 326 RBIs (11 hitters)

Every ’19 first-team non-pitcher had at least four HRs. Two sluggers from ‘Iolani were in double digits (Aleia Agbayani with 16, Kai Barrett with 12). Remove one hitter, Agbayani, the Star-Advertiser All-State player of the year, and the ’19 first team has “only” 62 HRs, but still has 270 RBIs.

The ’18 first team (non-pitchers) included three players who had two HRs each. This is probably where the biggest shift occurred: line-drive singles hitters have transformed into occasional sluggers. But more on that later.

The ’17 team had just four batters who reached the .450 BA mark. The ’18 first team had six. The ’19: seven (out of 11).

In ’17, there were five non-pitchers with at least 20 RBIs among the first team. The ’18 group had six batters. The ’19 group has eight.

The ’17 team was a bit of an anomaly. Jocelyn Alo was walked 46 times, a number that may never be touched again. She actually had just five HRs and 11 RBIs, yet dominated with a .773 OBP. A 1.842 OPS?

We could look at Alo’s numbers in ’17 this way. In 75 total plate appearances, she accounted for three singles, four doubles, five homers, stole one base along with the 46 BBs. That’s 78 total bases.

The increase through typically power-laden positions through traditionally lighter-hitting slots has been inevitable since the day aluminum bats were banned for safety reasons.

“I love aluminum because you didn’t have to buy a bat every year,” ‘Iolani coach Benny Agbayani said. “I used aluminum every year until I got to the pros. I had the same (aluminum) bat from when I was 13 to when I finished high school. That’s how long. Nowadays, the composite bats, you’re almost buying a new bat every year. These companies, they’re scientifically making these bats a little more stronger, a little more exciting for the games.”

The demand for great weapons in the softball batter’s box, Au said, derives from men’s slowpitch softball.

“The double-wall DeMarini (aluminum) must’ve started around 1993 or ’94. They carried that over to the composites,” he said.

At higher levels, there are compression tests for illegal bats. But as far as anyone knows, the jump in power numbers here is all about legal bat technology and players who are much more skilled and trained in the past few years. Technology always moves forward, sometimes as a luxury, but much more often as a necessity. In war. In disaster. In adversity. In softball, in the hunger for a college scholarship.

Years ago, the impact in softball and baseball with BBCOR bats saw batting averages drop across the board from 50 to 100-plus points. .400 hitters suddenly struggled to crack .300 on the baseball diamond. But batters adjusted, and more so, bat manufacturers went ballistic with research and tinkering.

In 2019, DeMarini and Easton have captured the imagination — and hearts — of sluggers near and far. The Easton “Ghost” is widely embraced. ‘Iolani first-teamer Barrett won’t let go of hers, noting that it probably adds another 20 feet to her prodigious long balls.

What makes the Ghost so good?

“I really don’t know,” Au said. “It starts out really stiff, then it starts breaking in a little bit. Once it hits that sweet area, it’s a more reactive bat. It’s hard to see. I see the girls swing all different kinds of bats. Gigi (Araki) swings a Xeno and (Kiana) Domingo swings an LXT. Both are Louisville Sluggers. It’s a matter of preference. Alana Jarra-Parker swings a seven- or eight-year old Xeno.”

Agbayani, who connected on four homers last year, has stuck with her DeMarini en route to massive homer and RBI (56) totals. By playing constantly in the summer in various tournaments on the mainland, the state’s best players are introduced to the latest weaponry. Sometimes it’s through their mainland-based teammates.

“I started (coaching) in 1985. The game has changed so much. In the old days, the school provided the bats,” St. Francis coach Randy Langsi said. “I go to these (mainland) tournaments with Wendell, and these vendors have these bats. They’ll demo the bats. The players see other girls have success. That kinds of tempts the kids to get those bats. Parents have to fork up 300, 400 bucks.”

Langsi noted the distance of the pitching mound to home plate, from 40 feet to 43 in recent years for safety reasons. Au believes it was also a matter of taste for the ruling powers of the sport.

“I think back in those days when the mound was at 40, you had Keiki Carlos (of Mid-Pacific) and pitchers who were dominant. Games were 1-0 and most people didn’t want that. 43 makes a big difference,” Au said. “They already do a BPF, the velocity of the ball coming off the bat. Each ruling body of softball has a different measurement. But in the end, these kids are taking at least 100 cuts a day at practice.

However, training and skill are at a peak, Langsi believes.

“If you have a $25 swing and a $400 bat, it won’t matter when you face a higher level of pitching,” he said. “Some (bats) are balanced. Some are head-heavy. So it depends on the batter. There’s so many layers to this. You have to focus on the absolutes of the game, which are fundamentals. The tech is just a bonus.”

For those who are already advanced, already masterful, the extra pop only helps.

“It’s like computers. You have to upgrade every year to keep up instead of getting frustrated,” Langsi said. “The bats, even the gloves they use, the shoes, even the uniforms. Pants are a big deal for these young ladies. Baseball pants don’t fit right for them. The old adage is, feel good and you play good.”

Kapolei coach Keoke Behic sees a lot of savvy shopping — scouting and appraising bats — by players, coaches and parents.

“These newer bats are good, but it depends on what year they made the model. Those first (Louisville Slugger) Xeno bats were hot, but later, they had to change the technology. It was too hot. Calls came off the face too hard. Same with the Ghost. The Ghost that’s coming out right now is not as hot as the Ghost two years ago (2017),” Behic said.

Behic did his own test.

“I tested my theory with my daughter (Jade) and some of our players. When the bats broke, we sent it in with the warranty. The new one they sent us doesn’t have the same pop and it doesn’t have the same sound. She said, ‘Dad, I think it’s dead.’ “

That’s right. A dead ghost.

“I told her, they were forced to change the technology because the bat was breaking too fast. They had to make it more durable, but the pop isn’t that great,” Coach Behic said. “The gray-blue-yellow 2019 Ghost is totally not the same.”

Behic also has a firm analysis of DeMarini bats.

“DeMarini is the same way. The best DeMarini was a CF5, a light blue bat, from 2012. That particular bat was the best DeMarini bat. It had the most pop. Now, you look for it on eBay, it sells for $700 or $800. My niece got one the other day for maybe $260, $270. She used it this past weekend and it had a lot of jump, but it’s very rare that you’ll find it. You have to be persistent.”

Some of the top local players like Agbayani, or in past years, Dallas Millwood of Kamehameha (now with Nevada), played as 50 or more games through the summer with elite clubs like Batbusters. Lots of opportunities to see first-hand what the latest bat technology can do against the nation’s best pitchers.

As Langsi says, those who make contact squarely and consistently reap the best results. Agbayani’s numbers rose in ’19, the result of multiple reasons, including incredible work ethic. A mother, Faith, who invested her summers into her daughters’ playing careers, traveling every summer. A father and former professional hitter, Benny, who tossed an endless number of softballs as Aleia crafted her skill with the bat.

“There’s some players, they don’t take nothing off of their pitch. She’s one of them,” Au said. “Gigi Araki. They just bring the house. Once they release their hands, all you get is 100 percent swing. Jocelyn Alo had the same thing. It’s just pretty amazing to watch.”

If Agbayani doesn’t make contact to begin with, there would be no 56 RBIs and 49 runs. No .636 batting average. Without that plate coverage and vision, no .696 on-base percentage.

Back home, some individual comparisons among all-state bashers…

2017, IF Dallas Millwood, Kamehameha: BA .528, OBP .609, SLG .981, 4 HRs, 29 RBIs, 22 R.

2018, IF Sammie Ofoia, St. Francis: BA .605, OBP .681, SLG 1.579, 12 HRs, 23 RBIs, 21 R.

2019, Aleia Agbayani, ‘Iolani: BA .636, OBP .696, SLG 1.455, 16 HR, 54 RBIs, 49 R, 14 SB.

Let’s look at the second-best offensive stat lines.

2017, Ashley Salausa, Leilehua: BA .567, OBP .612, SLG .983, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs, 19 R.

2018, Millwood: BA .633, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs, 23 R, OBP .766, SLG 1.367.

2019, IF D’Asha Saiki, Punahou: BA .579, OBP .692, SLG 1.140, 8 HRs, 28 RBIs, 33 R.

A close third, or maybe second?
2017, SS Nawai Kaupe, Baldwin: BA. 536, OBP .649, SLG 1.357, 11 HRs, 23 RBIs, 25 R, 5 SB.

2018: OF Mari Foster, Roosevelt: BA .583, OBP .636, SLG 1.313, 9 HRs, 34 RBIs, 23 R.

2019: C/IF Kai Barrett, ‘Iolani: BA .466, OBP .541, SLG 1.068, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs, 30 R.

Back to the singles-hitters-turned-bashers…

The first-team outfielders of ’18, Mari Foster (Roosevelt), Nohea Lee (Maryknoll) and Alyssa Asuncion (Leilehua), combined for 13 HRs and 67 RBIs, and scored 61 runs for good measure. The ’19 outfield of Aleia Agbayani, Allie Capello (‘Iolani) and Mahalo Akaka (Maryknoll) did this: 29 HRs, 124 RBIs with 94 runs scored. Capello (BA .423, OBP .500, SLG .930, 9 HRs, 42 RBIs, 27 runs) is just a freshman. Akaka (BA .387, OBP .441, SLG .726, 4 HRs, 4 HRs, 26 RBIs, 18 runs) is a sophomore.

Even without Agbayani and Capello, if the ’19 outfield were three Mahalo Akakas, their combined numbers of 12 HRs, 78 RBIs and 54 runs scored would be on par or better than the ’18 first-team outfield.

Yup. What in the world is going on? The repeat first-teamers like Saiki, a shortstop, and Araki, a catcher, had very similar power numbers from ’18 to ’19. It’s in the typically less-powered positions like OF where the pendulum has swung most.

How about the second-team outfields?

2017: Tavale, Jaeda McFarland (Pearl City) and Macy Uehara (‘Iolani) tallied one HR and 23 RBIs combined (and 48 runs).

2018: Kawai Mielke (Punahou), Tausani Tavale (Kamehameha) and Alesia Ranches (Campbell) combined for six HRs and 42 RBIs (and 53 runs).

2019: Hoku Ching (Roosevelt), Alyssa Ferreira (Baldwin) and Isha Knight (Kamehameha) had a combined nine HRs and 51 RBIs (and 55 runs)

Maybe it evens out with the third-team outfielders?

2017: Ranches, Kamalei Labasan (Maryknoll) and Noel Saunders (Pearl City), five HRs, 39 RBIs (36 runs).

2018: Kailee Mahelona (St. Francis), Saunders, Joelle Hirata (Waiakea), combined five HRs, 41 RBIs (and 69 runs).

2019: Mahea Perkins (Mid-Pacific), Lia Castillo (Baldwin), Tiani Wayton (Punahou), a combined 12 HRs and 50 RBIs (and 68 runs).

Even the grandest defensive position (not including catcher) has morphed into a home for superhuman strength. Here are the numbers for seven shortstops who had the best HR totals and received at least one vote in the ’19 All-State balloting: 10, 8, 6, 6, 5, 5, 3. Their RBI totals: 33, 28, 26, 25, 21, 19, 18. Shortstop has turned into a power-hitting, run-producing position.

“It’s not a big secret. If you really look at the dynamics of the game, and I’ve talked to college coaches, they’re going to recruit shortstops. The best athlete ends up at shortstop,” Au said. “A lot of things come into play. A girl who played shortstop since she was 10, maybe she moves to catcher like Gigi Araki. But shortstops produce, especially this year. A lot of stellar shortstops with the glove and the stick. Saiki, Ranches is well-rounded. Lovey (Kepaa) didn’t have a high batting average, but she hit for power (10 HRs). Honestly, (Maya) Nakamura (of Roosevelt) is one of the hardest hitters to pitch around in the state.”

Maybe it’s the weight room reps. The strength and explosiveness training. Maybe it’s the technology. Maybe, as some coaches note, pitching as a whole was a bit young this season. (More on that later.) Maybe potential fireballers would rather be position players than carry the emotional and mental challenge that every pitcher has on the mound.

“I still say pitching is 90 percent of the game,” Langsi said.

Most coaches agree on this: the drive for a college scholarship is stronger than ever. Remember when tuition at the University of Hawaii was $425 per semester? Those days are long gone. Tuition at USC was recently hiked to $75k annually.

Recruiters know this. Bat manufacturers know this. Players know this. Evolve or die, or at the least, be forgotten. This is not your grandmother’s softball game. For coaches and fans, the long ball is reality, but that doesn’t mean everyone prefers it.

“Going into these games, seeing balls flying out, why are we going to sacrifice (bunt) when it could be a rally killer,” Punahou coach David “Boy” Eldredge said. “We practice it more than we use it. We still don’t know how or when to use it because of the big numbers.”

Tradition versus training and technology. Au agreed that it’s not always easy to figure out when to utilize a station-to-station plan.

“Actually, the game situation will determine it. Your personnel will determine it. We’ve been lucky to have (power hitters) in the 6 and 7 holes. I like to build momentum. At the beginning of the season I had Gigi at 3 and Lovey at 4, but by the time Gigi would come up to hit, we had one or two outs. The 2, 3, 4 hole, the pitchers are trying to make you fish, giving you less to hit. So sometimes it’s better to spread (hitters) out. I’ve seen big batters like Nakamura in the 5, 6, 7 hole.”

So, coaches have been forced to evolve and adapt.

“Coaches are getting more dynamic and avoiding the traditional order thing. That can be a rough road,” Au said. “I’m traditionally a small-ball coach. That’s how we all started, but sometimes you get stuck in those predicaments. It’s a gut feel more than anything else. The game kind of dictates when you’re going to play small ball. You’re not going to do it when you’re down six, seven runs. Small ball isn’t scarce, but you’ll see it when games are closer. Who really sticks to it is Shag (Hermosura). He really sticks to it regardless. That’s why you see his games become close. Baldwin jumped out early (on Campbell) so you if don’t have runners on base, it’s a tough situation.”

The tsunami of power hitting delights one fan and leaves a sour taste in the mouth of a purist. For Eldredge, it’s not so much about what is pure. Softball, and baseball, are about fundamentals that make a difference.

“Our last two seasons, it’s more of a frustrating thing for me as a coach. We work so hard on the little things in the game. The turn around third (base) to get an extra step. The angle you take on a ground ball. Then you get taken out by three-run home runs or a grand slam. You love it as a fan to see the ball go out,” he said. “But as a coach, it takes away from the little things you teach your teams.”

With that, here’s a look at comparative all-state pitching statistics.

2017 first team
Dani Cervantes, Campbell: 13-4, 1.05 ERA, 106 IP, 140 SO, 26 BB
Tyanna “Peanut Butter” Kaaialii, Pearl City: 13-5, 2.59 ERA, 121 IP, 122 SO, 91 BB
Misha Carreira, Mililani: 14-3, 2.84 ERA, 121 IP, 105 SO, 63 BB

2018 first team
Kamryn Kamakaiwi, Leilehua: 8-2, 1.56 ERA, 58 IP, 50 SO, 26 BB.
Sierrah Kupihea, St. Francis: 11-3, save, 3.33 ERA, 82 IP, 67 SO, 37 BB.
Jaeda Cabunoc, Roosevelt: 12-3, 2.13 ERA, 82 IP, 44 SO, 39 BB

2019 first team
Kupihea: 8-1, save, 4.27 ERA, 52 IP, 67 SO, 8 BB.
Ailana Agbayani, ‘Iolani: 7-1, save, 4.55 ERA, 58 IP, 82 SO, 27 BB.
(Second team) Aliya Harmon, Baldwin: 6-4, save, 2.53 ERA, 69 IP, 71 SO, 39 BB.

2017 second-team pitchers
Poamai Tuli, Aiea: 12-0, save, 0.71 ERA, 69 IP, 122 SO, 14 BB
Kaena Nistal, Leilehua: 7-5, 2.77 ERA, 81 IP, 73 SO, 23 BB
Kahilu McNicoll, Maryknoll: 12-6, 4.77 ERA, 102 IP, 78 SO, 98 BB

2018 second-team pitchers
Kennedy Ishii, Punahou: 8-4, save, 4.90 ERA, 82 IP, 37 SO, 38 BB.
McNicoll: 7-5, save, 3.96 ERA, 83 IP, 81 SO, 75 BB.
Chloe Sales, Campbell: 10-2, save, 4.05 ERA, 81 IP, 21 SO, 35 BB.

2019 second-team pitchers
Ashanti Martinez, Punahou: 14-4, 4.72 ERA, 121 IP, 30 SO, 45 BB
(Third team) Alyssa Abe, Leilehua: 11-7, 4.90 ERA, 91 IP, 62 SO, 52 BB
(Third team) Jaeda Cabunoc, Roosevelt: 13-2, 2.58 ERA, 54 SO, 29 BB

Fairly comparable. Then there are the ’19 state-tournament numbers. Spectators witnessed a mind-blowing event, homers sailing out of Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium at a record pace. Even hurlers who posted solid regular-season numbers were toasted mercilessly by this year’s smash sisters. There were few exceptions.

The pupule theory here: more than most teams, state-tournament qualifiers have the most club players, and hence, the most willingness to invest in the best equipment, the best bats. The best training. The strongest work ethic. The results don’t lie. The effect on pitchers was widespread. Even the best-trained pitchers would succumb to some degree in this era. Here’s a look at the state’s top pitchers and the wreckage they endured at the state tourney.

>> Cabunoc. After enduring major lower-back pain all season, she entered the state tourney with a 13-2 mark, 2.58 ERA and near 2:1 ratio in Ks to BBs. At states, she went 2-1 with a 6.63 ERA. Punahou had 11 runs (eight earned) and 16 hits against her in the quarterfinal round. She came back to pitch in a consolation game against Campbell and went the distance in a tie game called by time limit, allowing seven earned runs on 12 hits.

>> Nadia Delzer, Campbell. She was 9-1 with a 3.85 ERA, a virtual 2:1 SO-BB ratio before states. At states: 1-1 (and a tie), 10.50 ERA. Baldwin reached the sophomore for seven earned runs and 14 hits in 5 1-3 innings. She added two scoreless innings against Kealakehe. Then, in two innings against Roosevelt, seven runs on seven hits.

>> Ashanti Martinez, Punahou: After a workmanlike regular season (14-4, 4.72 ERA), she got past Roosevelt before Leilehua’s bats exploded. Facing those two teams, plus Baldwin, she was 2-1 with a 6.72 ERA at states. Her season line — 121 innings pitched — said a lot about her ability to survive in a wacky new era of live, hot bat technology.

>> Primrose Aholelei, Kaiser: A young defense struggled at times behind Aholelei, but the Cougars still reached states. The senior was 11-7 with a 2.80 ERA (117 innings), but was 1-2 with a 7.74 ERA at states.

>> Alyssa Abe, Leilehua: Much like Martinez, Abe was a grinder who withstood adversity and found ways to keep the Mules competitive. She was 11-7 with a 4.90 ERA, and was 3-1 with a 7.45 ERA at the state tourney, losing only to ‘Iolani.

>> Kupihea (8-1, 4.27 ERA) went 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA, 31 strikeouts and just two walks in 17 innings, but that was in the D-II state tourney. She had success in the ILH season against the top teams as the Saints split with the best, swept Kamehameha.

>> Harmon. After an MIL season when she struggled against Lahainaluna, Harmon found more consistency against Oahu opponents. Harmon allowed no earned runs over seven innings in a win over Maryknoll. Then just two earned runs in a complete-game win over Campbell. She was removed after two innings against eventual state champion ‘Iolani, allowing four runs (one earned) on seven hits. In the third-place game against Punahou, she surrendered four earned runs on six hits in three innings, with two Ks and three walks. Still, her totals for the state tourney were impressive: 2-1, 2.58 ERA, 12 Ks, nine walks in 19 innings. Her final stat line: 6-4, save, 2.53 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 39 walks in 69 innings.

>> Aleia Agbayani, ‘Iolani: As usual, she split the innings load with younger sister Ailana. Aleia (7-3, 3.98 ERA in the regular season) went 2-0 with a 6.55 ERA at states. The southpaw pitched in three games, giving way to her righty sister each time as the Raiders craftily utilized their pitching staff.

>> Aloha Akaka, Maryknoll: The sophomore was one of the few pitchers who actually lowered her ERA during states. She finished 9-7 with a 5.07 ERA. At the state tourney, she was 0-1 with a 4.90 ERA, giving up seven earned runs and 17 hits to Baldwin. She also pitched three innings against Waianae, permitting no earned runs.

>> Mikayla Kekoa, Kohala: Though the Cowgirls play in Division II, they played D-I teams in the BIIF’s regular season. She beat Waiakea, fanning 15, and was 8-7 overall with a 3.07 ERA. Of the 84 runs she permitted, only 43 were earned. At the D-II state tourney, she was relatively untested on the mound with three wins. In the final against powerhouse St. Francis, she allowed just three earned runs in six innings, the Saints’ second-lowest run output of the season.

>> Brooke Baptiste, KS-Hawaii: The BIIF D-II champions fell short of the state final. Baptiste finished 17-1 with a 1.00 ERA, a whopping 141 strikeouts (and 47 walks) in 105 innings. The Warriors had the misfortune of meeting St. Francis in the semifinals — the only Top 10 team in the D-II state tournament was not the top seed. Against the Saints, Baptiste surrendered seven earned runs on 13 hits in six innings with one K, two walks, a wild pitch and hit batter.

>> Ailana Agbayani, ‘Iolani: The freshman ace, like many other pitchers, learned to endure, to survive and advance. Her 7-1 mark with a 4.55 ERA is more evidence of the state of hitting in 2019. What separated Agbayani from most was this: 82 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 58 innings. At states, she appeared in three games, going 1-0 with a save, a 4.50 ERA, 17 strikeouts and four walks in 9-plus innings.

>> Jade Behic, Kapolei: The 3-10 win-loss mark is deceiving. The senior had a highly-competitive 4.08 ERA, getting by on skill and guile (34 strikeouts, 35 walks in 85 innings). At the state tourney, she allowed three earned runs in 5 2-3 innings against eventual finalist Leilehua. She also allowed no earned runs in 5 1-3 innings against Kaiser in consolation play. She finished with a 1.91 ERA at states, seven Ks and three walks in 11 innings.

>> Alohilani Napalapalai, Waianae: The powerful sophomore had plenty of ups and quite a few downs during the regular season in the rugged OIA West, going 6-6 with two saves, a 4.83 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 40 walks in nearly 70 innings. At states, her team led most of the way before losing to eventual champ ‘Iolani. She allowed 11 earned runs on 11 hits in those six innings, with seven Ks and seven BBs. In this era, being able to compete is half the battle. She later pitched against Maryknoll (one earned run, 4 2-3 innings) and Kaiser (two earned runs, 7 innings). She finished the tourney 1-1 with a 5.55 ERA.

>> Halee Sweat, Waiakea: She was 5-3 with a save and a 4.35 ERA in BIIF play. Then Kapolei faced her at states and totaled nine earned runs on 11 hits in six innings. She walked six and did not strike out a batter in the loss.

>> Mele Turner, Castle: Turner’s tale this season was dramatic. Before she walked off the practice field two days before a playoff game, she posted a 6-3 mark with a 2.53 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 28 walks in 58 innings. Turner later said that she had no intention of quitting the team, but the senior said her coach would not allow her to return. Whatever the case, the Knights missed their senior ace, and they all missed the state tournament after a promising start to league play. Would she have experienced the same barrage that other OIA East pitchers did during states? Maybe. But with a groin injury that was still a long way from healing, she could have been a scratch, too.

To be certain, it is not an easy time for pitchers and pitching coaches in Hawaii nei.

Au recalled one of the best athletes he’s seen on a softball diamond: three-sport standout Marina Gusman of Pearl City. Gusman sparked the Chargers to a state title in ’06.

“I’m not going to take away from players in the past, but if you put these sticks in the hands of Rick Gusman’s daughter (Marina), she single-handedly carried Keoke Behic’s team. If you put a Ghost or DeMarini into her hands, the ball (flight) is completely different. The kids train a lot more now,” Au said.

Even that ’06 season was buoyed by new technology of the time.

“That was the first year the Anderson Rocket Tech was on the market, and we hit a lot of homers,” Behic recalled. “That was the hottest bat to come out and it was tremendous. We had two of them, a 33 and a 34.”

In 15 years or so, the ripple has turned into this tsunami of preparation.

“You can’t tell me, I know kids back then trained, but it’s nothing like the kids are training now,” Au said. “Kids back around that time, even before that, most of them might not train year-round. Now they have hitting coaches and fielding coaches as teams. Their parents are willing to do it, more so on the mainland. Here, we do it as coaches out of our hearts. On the mainland, they’re paying $50 an hour to get those coaches. To keep up with the Joneses, I take my kids to somebody. It would’ve turned someone like Marina into someone times 10.”

Langsi, a pitching coach as well as head coach, is optimistic.

“Along with the technology and technique, that’s getting better (for hitters), but that just means pitching has to get better. All these tournaments, they see college coaches out there and it’s a trickle-down. Coaches are scouting and recruiting, and if you can hit, you can play,” he said.

Unless, or until, the avalanche of power hitting subsides — naturally or via rule change — it’s about mind over matter for pitchers.

“You need pitchers who can move their pitches. Sierrah (Kupihea) needed time to develop her pitches. You have to have the mindset and fortitude and that’s the advantage Si had. You’ve got to have confidence in your offense when your team comes back to hit,” Langsi said.

There was a time, he recalled, when his hitters would rack up 15, 16 runs, but give up 20 to the other dugout.

“I just think pitching now, they’ll catch up to the bats. I may be biased because I’m a pitching coach, but I think it’ll get better. There’s a lot of good pitching coaches out there,” Langsi noted. “The ILH had a lot of young pitchers and they’ll get better.”

Sometimes, the yearning pushes players and parents past the boundary line. Au doesn’t believe it happens here in the islands, but on the mainland, where competition is dense and constant, there is more temptation and trickeration.

“On the mainland, people send their bats away and someone uses a CNC machine to thin out the walls (inside a bat). It creates more trampoline effect. To have that done is a lot of money. That’s not legal at all,” he said. “And it shortens the life of the bat.”

Behic said the process is known as “rolling.”

“There’s people who have been rolling the bats all over the country for years. It’s breaking it in quicker. Instead of swinging the bat 1,000 times to break it in, they’ll use a machine,” he said.

There’s enough doubt among coaches locally that there have been discussions.

“At our end-of-season coaches meeting, a couple of coaches proposed, especially for tournaments that can be regulated, to test bats. Compression testing,” Behic said. “The rationale is at the coaches’ conference, the umpire will ask if your team is properly equipped according to federation standards, but what if you don’t know if one of your kids had the bat rolled, and hits a ball of the pitcher’s head?”

The matter is in exploratory stage. Putting stickers that deem a bat safe and finding funds to pay for a compression machine are factors.

“People can take of stickers. Then it becomes a point of integrity,” Behic added. “Really, it comes down to everyone in the game having integrity. With the technology these days, you don’t really need to roll your bat to hit well.”

That extreme may never be necessary. Short-term results don’t last, while training and technology are here to stay. It was once a great time to be a pitcher. The pendulum has swung. It is now a great time to be a hitter, especially one with a golden swing.

Behic tried to picture Gusman in today’s game, armed with today’s tech.

“I would think she might surpass 15, 16 homers. She was just as good as the best of them,” he said. “I’m not going to see a person like that with that kind of power and speed in this generation.”

Unless, maybe, Gusman has daughters.

“She has a son,” Behic said.


  1. MC May 28, 2019 12:22 pm

    Great article. Is this same trend in hitting seen across the nation or are Hawaii’s best just catching up to the rest? Has bat technology done the same for the high school boys playing baseball in Hawaii?

  2. ILH May 29, 2019 8:04 am

    Can anyone share about the softball team that competed in the mainland and was caught with “illegal” bats?? Werent some of the players caught from Hawaii? and are current HS players that played in the state tournament? and wasnt one of the coaches interviewed in this article a coach on that team??

  3. Coach/Fan May 29, 2019 6:17 pm

    When Keiki Carlos was a freshman, the pitching rubber was 40 feet. From her sophomore season on, she pitched from 43 feet. She was still dominating, as was Winona Pauline of Kapolei. They battled at the 2012 State Tournament to a 1-0 game. Greatest pitching duel I have ever seen and will probably ever see.
    Yes, the hitters today are stronger, the bats are better, and the training is more advanced, but the fact remains that pitching is sub-par. How else can you explain the fact that every single winning team in the State Tournament (D1) scored 10 runs or more?

  4. Crankit May 30, 2019 7:22 am

    Bats are being SHAVED and rolled. This adds 30 to 60 feet on a solid hit. There are four companies on the mainland that all claim to be the best at re-engineering bats. You can also buy new bats from them that they will shave and roll for you.

    At the OIA coaches meeting a couple of coaches did bring it up and it was suppose to be brought before the ADs. The plan was to ask the HHSAA to compression test all bats before the tournament. I don’t know where the proposal stands now. Funny thing, when the subject of illegal shaved bats were brought up, lot of the coaches sat still and quite.

    Balls come off a shaved bat at 7 to 15 mph faster.
    Shaved bats are illegal in all leagues everywhere and can only be used in Homerun derby’s.

    Here is my prediction, more and more parents and coaches will be purchasing these illegal shaved bats or sending in their current bats to be shaved.

    Someone needs to stop this insanity.

  5. ILH May 30, 2019 6:19 pm

    Crank it- you sound like an informed Bruddah. No need names but maybe just confirmation that there were some girls in the state tourney that have been caught using illegal bats???

  6. ILH June 3, 2019 12:43 pm

    OK. Just blink your eyes if what I am saying is spot on.

    The team colors are Green and Yellow.


    The team name rhymes with Manapua Jewels.


    Thank you, crankit.

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