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Underclassmen become part of Sugar Mill baseball weekend


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POSTED: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For the first time, underclassmen were involved with the Sugar Mill Baseball Classic, the high school senior all-star game. Organizer Casey Onaga and his web of coaches invited about 50 players to Saturday's scrimmage at Hans L'Orange Park as a prelude to Monday's game between many of the state's top seniors.

Coaches and scouts got to examine underclassmen in workouts on Friday and Saturday at the historic diamond in Waipahu. The scrimmage was an eye-opener for fans who had yet to see pitchers Carlos Rodriguez of Kapolei and Kahana Neal of Pearl City. Rodriguez, a 6-foot-2 lefty, was brilliant. He faced six batters, including some of the toughest hitters in the state, and didn't allow a hit. The sophomore struck out two quality hitters, Alan Baldwin (Kailua) and Michael Memea (Campbell), walked Ryan Yamane (Punahou) and then got Alaka'i Aglipay (Punahou) to ground into a double play. He also got solid hitters Jacob Meyer and T.C. Campbell of Kamehameha to fly out.

Rodriguez played at 'Iolani as a freshman before transferring to Kapolei. He could well be one of the top returning pitchers in the state next season if he can maintain his arsenal: changeup, cutter, curve, screwball and fastball.

Timber

Like the seniors in the Sugar Mill Classic, underclassmen in the scrimmage were required to use wooden bats. That made a difference for young sluggers like Aglipay, who had a bloop single and grounded out twice.

“;Just the strength off the bat, there's no pop off the bat,”; the junior said. “;We use wooden bats for fall league and American Legion, but you have to hit it perfectly.”;

Ready for travel

By her own estimation, Felicia Tui plans to travel a little farther than the moon shots that boom off her aluminum bat.

Tui, a senior at Farrington, won the home run derby during the New City Nissan Goodwill Softball Classic. The broad-shouldered slugger managed just two homers over the 200-foot outfield fence at Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park, but knows she's capable of more.

“;I never thought I was going to win,”; said Tui, who likes to groove into a pitch that's low and down the middle, if she has her way. “;It felt like practice. I got good pitches.”;

The next stop for Tui may be Eastern Arizona College. One of her Farrington coaches, Jackie Tema, played there.

“;If she can handle this, she can handle it there,”; Tema said.

Speed to burn

If fastpitch softball is more about speed than power, that would explain how some of the smaller schools in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu have transformed into formidable programs recently.

Case in point: Desi Dung (Mid-Pacific), Shay Shibata and Hillary Uekawa (Maryknoll) are among the fastest players in the state. They proved it on Monday by winning the New City Nissan Goodwill Softball Classic's baserunning relay contest, beating seven other trios.

Shibata (home plate to second base) and Uekawa (second to home) started the race, and Dung closed with the anchor's leg—running around the bases and back home. Their time of 22.47 seconds was first by a wide margin.

“;We wanted to get it over with,”; said Dung, a first baseman and pitcher who helped the Owls reach the Division I state tournament for the first time this spring.

“;It's all fun and games,”; she added.

The speedsters boosted Team Altima to the tournament title late Monday night. With ace Joslyn Eugenio on the mound and clutch hitting from Chante Tesoro, coach John Uekawa's team outlasted Team Titan 6-3.

Uekawa, father of Hillary, put his energy into organizing the event in its first three years. This time, he enjoyed coaching many of the players who have played on his club team since they were 10.

“;As tired as I am, I love it because it's about gender equity,”; he said as the lights went out at CORP. “;We have a really good staff, and we had two weeks of preparation.”;