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Baseball sweeps Vulcans in opener

by Kyle Galdeira, staff writer

While most sports fans looked forward to the final weekend of January in anticipation of the NFL Super Bowl, the HPU baseball team had its sights set on its Jan. 31 season opener against the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo on the island of Hawai‘i. The Sea Warriors took on the Vulcans, a NCAA Division I opponent, and swept the three- game weekend series 5-1, 5-4, and 12-7.
 

HPU aims to continue its winning ways and hopes to improve on last season’s 24-24 campaign, which included a 2-12 record away from home. Head Coach Allan Sato is pleased with how the team is looking after three months of instruction and practice.

“ The glaring difference [from last year’s team] is going to be the beefed-up pitching staff with unselfish team guys that work hard,” said Sato. “Defense is going to be our strong point, with all the guys coming back from last season who have a year under their belt.”

The Sea Warriors added Juan Guerra, Bart Mendonca, Mike Pelsnik, and Derok Roach, all right-handed junior transfers, to the pitching rotation. Guerra last played for L.A. Harbor Junior College, while the others all transferred from junior colleges in Arizona.

The hurlers join returning right-handers Scott Batula, Zach Blatties, Sean Paiva, Ikena DuPont and left-handers Kai Austin, Cruz Hatanaka, and Gainor Nitta. David Zamarano returned for his senior season after posting a team-low 4.34 Earned Run Average to go along with a 5-2 record. Also returning is fellow senior Josh Ervin, team leader in saves (2) and appearances (16) last year.

“ We got some solid mainland recruits,” said Batula. “We’re not real deep, but the pitchers available are ready to go, barring any injuries.”

The pitching staff will rely on an experienced group of defensive starters who also bring speed and power to the batting lineup. Kyle Stanley, a junior transfer from Orange Coast College in California, will cover third base. Alika Kuraoka will play across the diamond at first base, while sophomores Brandon Sato and Grandon Costa will play up the middle at second base and shortstop respectively. Costa led last year’s squad with a .379 batting average, 58 hits, and a .497 on-base percentage. Ikaika DuPont adds a powerful bat to the offensive arsenal and will assume the roll of designated hitter, while Bryan Daguio adds depth to the bench and can play at third, short, and second.

Senior Tyler Ward returns to right field where he led last years’ squad with five outfield assists. Ward also led the team offensively in home runs (5) and Runs Batted In (35). Center fielder Geoffrey Say’s quickness makes him a threat on the base paths where he stole 12 bases and scored 38 runs last year.

Junior Greg Benoit, a transfer from Orange Coast College, Calif., will play left field. He boasts the strongest arm amongst the outfielders, according to Assistant Coach Gary Nakano. Billy Wright, a junior transfer from Ventura College Calif., can switch-hit and could play all outfield positions if needed.

The Sea Warriors main concern coming into the season was the catcher position. According to Coach Sato, four junior college prospects were recruited to fill the vacant spot, but all failed to qualify academically. Chase Nakamura, formerly an infielder, will shoulder most of the catching load while Benoit and freshman Carsen Bentley will serve as backups. While none of these players have any prior catching experience, all have been practicing the position in both game simulations as well as catching drills.

“ The hardest thing about catching is getting used to the squatting and trying to block the ball instead of fielding it,” said Nakamura.

Throughout the season, the Sea Warriors will face some of the most-talented teams in Division II baseball. HPU is an independent baseball program with no conference affiliation, so the team is able to face competition from literally one end of the country to the other.

HPU will play six games against both the University of Tampa and Sonoma State University Calif., ranked first and ninth respectively in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s preseason Division II baseball poll released on Dec. 19.

“ We try to compete against top-notch teams in our division,” said Sato.

The Sea Warriors played their first six home games against Sonoma State in three doubleheaders Feb. 5-7 at Ke‘ehi Lagoon Park, the same field used by HPU for practice. The rest of the HPU home games will be played at Aloha Stadium which boasts a recently installed “Field Turf” synthetic playing surface similar to Astroturf.

The University of Hawai‘i-Manoa Rainbows, a Division 1 opponent, will also host two games with the Sea Warriors Feb. 17 and Mar. 13 at Les Murakami Stadium.

 

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