On one hand, Kalani coach Shannon Hirai can’t help to play the “what-if” game.
With the addition of senior Connor Zalewski, a transfer from Mid-Pacific who has signed to play for the University of Hawaii next year, Hirai had a legitimate 1-2 punch at the top of his rotation with Zalewski and Reece Kakugawa, the Falcons’ ace from last season.
Unfortunately Kakugawa is dealing with an arm injury that may prevent him from throwing the entire season.
On the flip side, Hirai is especially lucky to have a guy like Zalewski fall into his hands for his senior season.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander was on his game Wednesday at Kahala Park, allowing two hits in a complete-game victory over Kailua.
Zalewski struck out seven and allowed only an unearned run in seven innings. Kalani won in walk-off fashion when Kakugawa, hitting in the No. 3 spot, singled to center with the bases loaded to win 2-1. The No. 10-ranked Falcons (3-0) are the only undefeated team left in the OIA Red East after just three games.
“This was a tough game,” Hirai said. “Connor fits in well with these guys and the best thing really is Reece has been down with an arm injury and I’m not sure we’ll get him back to where we’re at. Connor kind of replaces that.”
Zalewski threw 114 pitches and issued four walks but was strong through the later innings, using three sliders to end the sixth inning with a strikeout and leaving a runner in scoring position with a swinging strikeout on a fastball that still had some zip to end the top of the seventh.
“I just tried to mix it up and pitch backwards toward the late innings,” Zalewski said. “Just coming out here healthy feels good. It’s awesome (to be playing).”
Zalewski signed with UH in the fall but was a bit of an unknown. He was at Mid-Pacific last year but suffered a partial tear of his UCL and didn’t pitch.
Now at Kalani, he’s gone seven innings in each of his first two starts in league play. He allowed two earned runs on five hits with four walks and seven strikeouts in a 3-2 win over Moanalua in nine innings.
“We’re certainly deep with pitching even though obviously Connor has been throwing seven innings,” Hirai said. “We’ve got nine or 10 guys and I think our problem might be keeping them all fresh playing only two games a week and having Connor throwing seven each time.”
Zalewski was perfect the first time through the lineup against the Seariders. Dustin Imanaka, who had both of Kailua’s hits, singled to start the fourth inning and stole second and third before scoring an unearned run on a fly ball to center.
Payton Awaya tied the game with two outs in the sixth inning on an inside-the-park homer and Kalani won it the next frame.
“Kailua is a well-coached team that can hit and pitch and we got the better of them today,” Zalewski said. “We’ve got a great group of guys, not a lot of big-name guys, but guys that can put balls in play and you know, I was at Mid-Pacific, but it’s a new team and it’s the same goal — make it to states and win it all.”
At 3-0, the Falcons are on their way.