She loves softball.
She loves hula.
Keiki Carlos stopped dancing for five years to focus on softball, but since arriving at Mid-Pacific, the opportunity to learn under Kumu Hula Michael Lanakila Casupang was golden. She dances now for sheer joy.
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On the diamond, it’s the same determination with a different scope. The fireballing pitcher helped the Owls reach the Division I state tournament in her freshman and sophomore seasons. As a junior, with an oral commitment to the University of Hawaii, she is one of the many Owls who have pushed hard to make this a breakthrough season.
"She’s much more of a leader now," MPI coach Willie Quinn said. "She’s communicating and has her own way. When she talks, they listen."
Carlos, a consensus first-team selection last year, has talented returning teammates and a well of gifted newcomers at her side. Catcher Kaydi Kochi and third baseman Mahina "Tasi" Docktor were second-team picks by coaches and media. Docktor and Carlos are best friends.
"Our team has good chemistry. Our freshman and sophomore year, we were stepping it up," she said. "We’ve been to states two times and got a taste of it. We’re really excited about this season. We really want to win it all."
Carlos has dominated foes with pure heat on a mound that used to be 40 feet from home plate. With the change to a distance of 43 feet — the same used in college softball — the emphasis is on more offense. For Carlos, however, the extra 36 inches means more play on her breaking pitches.
"It hasn’t really affected me much. It’s definitely different," she said. "It’s actually better. We practiced (the distance) over the summer. That helped a lot."
She captivated state-tournament watchers as a freshman with a 16-strikeout performance against Hilo, but expects much more efficiency now.
"I’ve gotten smarter, not just trying to throw hard. I’m trying to hit my spots, not just trying to blast it past people. I let my defense work. They’re a solid defense," said Carlos, who received pitching tutelage as a young player from baseball and fast-pitch softball guru Tony Sellitto.
"He says, ‘Just be a pitcher. Focus. Use your whole body when you pitch,’ " she said of Sellitto.
Stephen Carlos, Keiki’s dad and MPI’s pitching coach, is enjoying her repertoire of pitches.
"The addition this year is her screwball. If she doesn’t throw it right, it’s a riser," he said.
Carlos’ bat is another weapon. Along with several Owls, Carlos has home-run power.
"We’ve been weight training a lot. Everybody’s been working hard together. We’ll get together on our own and hit a lot," she said.
That’s where the offseason comes into focus. After spending the summer — six weeks in all — with Docktor playing for the San Jose Sting, Carlos has evolved her approach at the mound and the plate. The same is true for Oshiro, who played on a mainland team, as well.
Lori Carlos, Keiki’s mom, has seen her oldest child mature.
"She was really, really shy," Lori said of Keiki as a younger child. "She’s really grown into a quiet leader. She’s not the type to brag. She just gets her business done, a lot like her father."
Keiki is just glad to have her two loves in one place.
"I love them both," she said of softball and dancing. "Hula, you get more of a spiritual impact. A lot of my hula brothers and sisters, we bond together like a regular team in softball. You get lifelong memories.
"It’s kind of nerve-wracking in the beginning of a show, always practicing on the side, but when we get there, it’s awesome. It’s like a rush on the mound, exciting and fun to do," she said.
This two-folded blessing might turn out to be a difficult juggling act when the state softball tournament nears. Mid-Pacific will be tested severely in the tough Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which has only two state berths this season. But MPI is a sure contender, and if the state tourney is on the menu, Carlos will have games and hula rehearsals to handle. The school’s halau, Pupukahi I Ke lo O Na Pua, has a big performance the day after the state softball final. She was away for a hula trip to California two weeks ago, missing the Mililani preseason tourney.
Quinn’s blend of wisdom and encouragement go a long way with the busy Owls.
"They come out of Mid-Pacific well-rounded, I think," he said. "Keiki’s got mental toughness. She’s got the quality of always coming back."