Wednesday, May 16, 2001
[ PREP BASEBALL ]
Neighbor islandMolokai won't be making the trip to Oahu this weekend to defend its state baseball championship. But the Farmers' influence will be apparent in the attitudes of the four neighbor island teams battling for the state crown.
teams try to keep
Baldwin leads a group
of teams trying to keep state
baseball title off of Oahu
By Jason Kaneshiro
Although the Farmers lost to Baldwin in the Maui Interscholastic League title game, their state tournament victories in 1999 and 2000 serve as inspiration for this year's crop of neighbor island teams hoping to keep the championship away from the Oahu powers for another year.
"After we beat Molokai, they were telling us they hope we have good luck and we have a chance to do it," said Baldwin catcher Kurt Suzuki. "And we really want to keep that MIL tradition going. We want to make it three years (in a row)."
The Wally Yonamine Foundation State Baseball Tournament opens with quarterfinal games Friday at Aloha Stadium and Hans L'Orange Park. The semifinals and finals are Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
If a neighbor island team wins the title again, Suzuki and Waiakea's Ryan Hanohano may have a lot to do with it. Suzuki, who has already committed to attend Cal State Fullerton, leads the Bears with his bat and his leadership behind the plate, while Hanohano has punished pitchers in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation each of his four varsity seasons.
At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Hanohano is one of the state's premier power hitters, posting batting averages close to .500 the past two years. The senior, who hopes to play at the University of Hawaii next season, is perhaps most dangerous with runners on base as he has repeatedly come through with clutch hits.
"He's an exceptional hitter," said Waiakea head coach Tommy Correa. "He has produced every year in the state tournament so far, facing top level competition."
While Suzuki's production at the plate has tailed off lately, he remains the Bears' field leader and a key player in the team's MIL title run. Baldwin rebounded from a midseason loss to Maui to sweep through the MIL tournament, capping the season with a 7-0 win over Molokai in the championship game.
Suzuki admitted that crouching behind the plate during the compressed schedule took its toll on his legs, but he said the opportunity to win a state title is worth the burning in his calves.
"The (teachers') strike wasn't helping with the conditioning part," Suzuki said. "But I figure it's my senior year, so just go, suck it up and do what you have to do."
Waiakea faces Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up Moanalua at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Aloha Stadium, while Baldwin battles BIIF runner-up St. Joseph's at 8:30 p.m. at Hans L'Orange.
While Suzuki and Hanohano said their teams fulfilled a goal by qualifying for the tournament, they agree earning a ticket to Oahu isn't enough.
"Our goal after our first couple preseason games was to not only get there, but to try to win it," said Hanohano. "We feel we have a tough, strong team, and so far the breaks have been working for us, so we just figure we'll go all the way."
Hanohano is doing what he can to help the Warriors prepare for Friday's game under the lights in Halawa. As one of the few Waiakea players who have game experience in Aloha Stadium, Hanohano is advising his teammates on how to play the hops off the artificial turf.
Although competing on the state's biggest stage excites the the players, the opportunity to prove their worth against Oahu's best serves as even greater motivation for the Maui, Big Island and Kauai champions.
"As a neighbor island team, we always have respect for the Oahu teams," said Hanohano. "Our league is coming around, but there's not as much competition as there is on Oahu. We'll be up for it just because we're playing a powerhouse team. ... We'll have something to prove."
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