Mid-Pac's McDaniel thriving on pressure


POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It seems like Matthew McDaniel always wanted the ball, and he always knew which arm he wanted to throw it with.

It's been that way since he was 3, when his father Randy tried to put the ball in his right hand.

“;(My dad) kept trying to get me to throw right-handed, and I kept grabbing it with my left hand,”; Matthew explains.

The younger McDaniel prevailed and eventually showed promise on the mound in Mililani PONY Baseball — as a lefty.

Even now, the Mid-Pacific senior ace's eyes light up when the topic turns to pitching.

McDaniel, a Star-Bulletin All-State selection last year, posted a 5-1 record and 1.11 ERA last season in the always-tough Interscholastic League of Honolulu, recording 41 strikeouts in 44 innings and walking only 16 batters.

With a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound pitcher doesn't overpower many opposing hitters. Instead, McDaniel relies on a repertoire that includes a two-seam fastball, curve, cutter and a changeup that serves as his go-to pitch.

“;My goal is to try and hit corners, mix speeds, and let the hitters hit and let my defense work,”; he said.

Don't let his finesse game fool you, though. McDaniel is a competitor. Starting against Punahou at Aloha Stadium as a freshman, he held the Buffanblu to one run over seven innings, though Mid-Pac eventually lost in extra innings.

“;I was excited,”; McDaniel said. “;I wanted to prove that Punahou could be beaten. Unfortunately, it didn't work out.”;

Despite his happy-go-lucky demeanor, McDaniel heeds Mid-Pac coach Dunn Muramaru's steadfast message of hunkering down to work hard, with or without supervision.

“;I love his philosophy because that's where the true character is — when no one's watching,”; said McDaniel. “;You don't have to be showing people how great you are, you just do what you normally do as a habit.”;

Last season, McDaniel notched a no-hitter in the ILH league opener against Damien at a time of heartache for his family. His grandfather died in Erie, Pa., less than two weeks before game, but McDaniel chose to remain in Hawaii.

“;He wanted to stay with the team,”; said his father, Randy.

“;I knew my grandpa would understand,”; said Matthew. “;I had already bonded with my teammates, and I knew they would help me through it, and they did.”;

“;He played so well last year, and we think the reason is because my dad was watching over him,”; said Randy McDaniel.

Saint Louis dealt McDaniel his only loss late last season to clinch the regular-season league championship. After starting strong, Mid-Pac finished 16-6, losing to Pearl City in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

The Owls struggled after McDaniel was sidelined for most of the postseason due to inflammation in his shoulder.

“;When you take the No. 1 guy off your team, and you gotta pitch with your (Nos.) 2, 3 guys, and then now we're facing the other team's No. 1 with our No. 3, it was kinda tough,”; Muramaru said. “;But heck, you just gotta go with what you got.”;

McDaniel, who might also play first base this year when he's not pitching, is looking forward to an injury-free senior campaign and a return to the state tournament.

“;Our defense is pretty solid, so we just need to work together as a team and hopefully we'll pull through later on in the season,”; he said.

Muramaru said McDaniel is only one of a strong core of senior leaders who have been in the program four years. It's a group that includes shortstop Wade Tamaru, left fielder Derek Tan, and Todd Nagamine in center.

Mid-Pac won the summer American Legion championship and lost in the Western Regional in Arizona to the eventual World Series champion, Bishop Gorman (Nev.), the top-ranked high school team in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball.

McDaniel missed playing with his teammates, since he and his father were flying back and forth to the mainland for showcase camps in front of college coaches and pro scouts.

In July, he showed enough stuff at a showcase in Santa Clara, Calif., to secure a scholarship offer from San Diego State and play for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

McDaniel committed to the Aztecs in September and signed a letter of intent in November. He turned down offers from Hawaii and New Mexico State.

McDaniel was already set on going away to play, and his interest only grew after a guided campus tour two years ago by Troy Hanzawa, a 2003 Mid-Pacific graduate who played shortstop for the Aztecs before being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies last year.

“;Troy was the perfect person to tell me what it was like there, because he was going through it,”; said McDaniel.

“;I fell in love with the campus immediately because the environment is great,”; he said. “;It's just like Hawaii. The climate's almost the same, the facilities were good, and I like the coaching staff.”;

McDaniel hasn't had any second thoughts about his decision.

“;My parents were bummed that I chose San Diego State, but they understand that you get more experience out there on the mainland than here,”; said McDaniel, who hopes to play pro ball. “;If you go to the mainland, (more scouts are) gonna see you.”;

“;We're going to miss him a lot, but it was his choice to go away,”; said Randy McDaniel. “;Yes, we wanted him to play at home, but we also want to back him up and let him play where he wanted to go.”;