Prep of the Year: Lani Kaleikini

Riley Overend

Four years ago, the softball team went 3-18. The pitching staff had a composite ERA of 7.58, and their offense was outscored by a combined 108 runs. A historically dominant program, Redwood softball was, all of a sudden, in shambles.

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senior Lani Kaleikini.

This year, the Giants (26-2) narrowly missed out on their second consecutive outright MCAL pennant, falling to Marin Catholic in the league title game. Nonetheless, the team experienced their best season in nearly a decade, allowing a mere 40 runs while their juggernaut offense produced a whopping 211 runs.

And while this remarkable rebound cannot be entirely attributed to one individual, it wouldn’t have been possible without two-time MCAL Pitcher of the Year and lone senior Lani Kaleikini.

“The pitcher is the backbone of the team—if you don’t have a pitcher, you don’t have a team,” said junior Kayla Rose, a key member of Kaleikini’s star-studded supporting cast. “So when you have a pitcher like Lani, you have a fantastic team, even if the defense doesn’t get to do much.”

A University of New Mexico-commit, the future Lobo sported a 19-2 record to go along with a 0.83 ERA. Kaleikini struck out 198 batters, over a third of the total batters she faced. At the plate, she slugged five home runs. Despite her unassuming smile and reserved demeanor, Kaleikini truly overpowered MCAL in every facet of the game.

“Lani is by far the happiest, loudest, most energetic person on the field, which can be very exhausting. But it is very needed when we’re down and we need a rally,” Rose said.

Last week, Kaleikini’s two-hit, 15-strikeout performance against Northgate propelled the Giants to the NCS quarterfinals. On Saturday, she supplied the knockout punch with a walk-off two-run homer to edge fifth-seeded Carondelet.

The Giants faced their most difficult challenge in the NCS semifinals on Wednesday, June 3, against top-seeded Livermore. However, as of press time, the results were not available.

Kaleikini is set to start, as is the case with nearly every game, accompanied by her six-pitch arsenal that has been so effective throughout her 2015 campaign. Not only do her pitches vary greatly in movement and speed, but she has developed the control to throw any pitch in any count.

Take her pitching performance in Redwood’s MCAL semifinal matchup against San Rafael, for example. Late in the playoff game, Bulldog slugger Olivia Dallara (.500 batting average, five home runs) stepped up to the plate with runners on base and two outs.

Kaleikini began the sequence with offspeed pitches low in the zone to get ahead in the count. With two strikes, she changed Dallara’s line of sight, throwing a rise ball up and away to record the strikeout and escape the inning unscathed.

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Situations like these showcase Kaleikini’s unrivaled understanding of the sport, a knowledge that allows her to play a sort of cat-and-mouse game with the hitter. She keeps hitters off-balance with curveballs and changeups early in the at-bat, only to later surprise them with near-60 mph fastballs. A rise ball up in the zone will set up a screwball low and inside. Kaleikini infiltrates the minds of opposing hitters and turns traditional pitching sequences on their heads.

“I’m not really trying to pitch for the strikeout when a batter comes up. But I have all my movements and I have complete faith in all my pitches—no matter what the count is,” Kaleikini said. “It also helps having pitches that move differently than what’s expected.”

Unlike most high school softball pitchers, Kaleikini possesses the confidence and awareness to alter her coach’s pitch calls in real-time depending on what she feels is the best pitch in a certain situation.

“I’ve gotten the wisdom to know when I can shake off pitches and know what pitches are working best for me,” Kaleikini said.