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Shoji-sparked Spartans played big when it counted


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

Perhaps no player summarizes the spirit of small-school heroics like Craig Shoji, Maryknoll's pitcher-outfielder and the most outstanding player of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Division II Baseball Championship. Shoji provided a huge play on a bullet throw home from center field to help the Spartans beat Waipahu in the quarterfinals. He also pitched Maryknoll to two victories, including a complete-game effort over Kauai in the final.

“;We have the will to win. Everyone has a lot of support for each other and a lot of heart,”; Shoji said. “;Now (other teams) know next time not to underestimate what's in front of them. This proves everything to the people who doubted us.”;

Shoji also overcame a liner that drilled his right thigh midway through the game.

“;The heart that he has and handling that whole situation, it's great,”; Kauai coach Hank Ibia said. “;To see a kid battling all the way, I tip my cap to the guy. They played a helluva game and deserved to win.”;

A year ago, the Spartans — who have no on-campus field — took their lumps. Smallish and thin, they looked more like an intermediate team in their return to the diamond as an independent squad. This season, though, they got stronger, bigger and better ... and went 2-14 in the ILH. Some critics didn't like the idea of a losing team in the state tourney, but as the lone D-II member of the ILH in baseball, there was no other option.

That's why it seems improbable that a team of young players would stick it out for two years, knowing that they'd usually be outmatched by D-I giants in the ILH. The Spartans were not deterred.

“;I hope this game proves we belong in (D-II) states,”; coach Kevin Uyehara said.

Kauai, meanwhile, can only wonder what could have been. Pitcher Trent Allianic's season-ending shoulder (non-throwing arm) injury before the regular season proved costly. He suffered it during football season, but is on track to play for Hawaii next year.

Rumors swirled at Les Murakami Stadium that Kauai would request to play in D-I next season, but Ibia has doubts about that.

“;Last year, I think we deserved to be in Division I,”; he said. “;But now, we can't beat Maryknoll today, so would we be going to D-I?”;