HPU Baseball on the cusp of first postseason appearance since 2010 with series win over Concordia

HPU Baseball on the cusp of first postseason appearance since 2010 with series win over Concordia

HPU Baseball on the cusp of first postseason appearance since 2010 with series win over Concordia

BY MICHAEL LASQUERO | HSRN
PUBLISHED APRIL 16, 2024

The tide is starting to turn for the Hawai’i Pacific baseball team.

The Sharks picked up a key series victory over Concordia University Irvine over the weekend to even their PacWest conference record at 14-14 with just four games left in league play before the postseason.

HPU dropped the first game against the Eagles, 4-3, before rattling off three decisive victories in a row to help move the Sharks into fourth place in the conference — a critical spot to be in as the top four teams will play in the PacWest postseason tournament, which uses a double-elimination format with no byes. 

The Sharks are trying for their first postseason appearance since 2010 and will have control of their own destiny with a road trip at Hawai’i Hilo this weekend and a crosstown matchup against Chaminade the following week.

“It was definitely a good weekend,” said HPU third-year coach Dane Fujinaka. “We needed to win that series, definitely a big series and I think it was really good to see different parts of our team click and be able to ride that momentum because historically we haven’t played good on the road. It seems like we’re getting the hang of it and starting to get some success on the road. Obviously going to Hilo we need to continue that and continue to play good baseball.”

The first win for HPU in the series came courtesy of the bat of sophomore outfielder Noah Hata, who hit a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the eighth in an 8-4 victory.

“Noah had a really good at bat and got a hold of one. That was the game right there. We definitely needed that,” said Fujinaka. “That was the turning point of our season, that hit because we were struggling to put together some runs.”

Hata’s game-winning blast also came after Concordia intentionally walked Skylar Agnew to get to him.

“I can’t believe they did that because statistically, Noah is as good as Agnew,” said Fujinaka. “It was a good matchup for him. He had a really good at bat, super clutch.”

For his efforts, Hata was named the PacWest Player of the Week.

“He’s the hardest worker on the field, plays hard all the time and just wants it,” Fujinaka said. “He’s a guy that everybody trusts because of the preparation that he does. He’s a great kid, a great teammate. Everybody loves him. I think everybody was super stoked when he pulled through there. He’s a guy that everybody wanted to see pull through and he deserved it.”

Game three was a dominant win in which HPU scored 14 runs on 20 hits in a 14-7 victory. The Sharks also got it done against Concordia’s Riley O’Sullivan, who was tabbed as the PacWest Preseason Pitcher of the Year. HPU got eight hits on Sullivan and chased him after 5 and 2/3 innings of work and scored 13 total runs in the final five innings of play.

“We knew he was their guy and we got to be ready to go,” said Fujinaka. “We actually hit him around pretty good, just couldn’t get that two-out knock. I just knew as long as we were good on the mound, we were going to get at him at some point so we did. Then finally we got a couple of big hits and then from there it took off. We built the momentum then we put them away. That was huge.”

Key contributors at the plate in the game three victory include Kota Suzuki, who batted 4-for-4 with three runs scored, TJ Smith with a team-high four RBIs and designated hitter Cooper Donlin with four hits in extended playing time.

While the bats came alive in game three, game No. 4 was the Shea Lake show.

The sophomore pitcher pitched a complete game in a 9-0 shutout performance to close out the series. Lake (4-2) tallied eight strikeouts in the win and was also selected as the PacWest Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. 

Officially Lake’s performance went down as a three-hitter, but Fujinaka thought those hits should have gone in the books as errors.

“That’s the best pitching performance we had all year, it should have been a no-hitter,” said Fujinaka. “It was three infield hits that they gave that were clear errors. That’s how the show goes when you’re the away team.”

The Sharks also backed Lake’s gem up with runs scored in five of seven innings played.

“We were kind of able to use our entire offense to score,” Fujinaka said. “Not just hitting, we ran, we bunted, we hit-and-run, all that type of stuff I think really attributed to the total runs scored.”

The three consecutive victories also came with two-time All-PacWest selection Nicholas Jio back in his usual leadoff spot. HPU was using power hitter Chase Taylor in the leadoff spot for a number of games previously before making the switch before game two.

Fujinaka said Jio has probably been the Sharks’ “hottest hitter the past couple of weeks.

“He’s back to his old self and in this past weekend, he’s back to the old All-Conference Jio.”

While in-state foes UH-Hilo (10-20) and Chaminade (8-20) are at the bottom of the conference standings, Fujinaka is not looking past the Sharks’ upcoming opponents.

“Chaminade is competitive, I don’t care what anybody says, they know how to play the game,” said Fujinaka. “(Coach) Chad (Konishi) is a really good coach. They’re coached well and they know how to play their game. It’s college baseball. You don’t show up and play your game, you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you’re going to lose. By no means are they auto wins cause they’re not.

“Going to Hilo is a whole different ball game. That’s a tough place to win. I think I got one win there in three years. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet, we got to take care of business.”

Because conference leader Westmont (20-3-1) is not eligible for postseason play in its first year of NCAA membership, HPU just needs to finish among the top five teams in terms of winning percentage to reach the postseason. Point Loma has essentially clinched its spot with a 18-5-1 conference record, so the Sharks are trying to fend off the likes of Azusa Pacific (13-10), Concordia (11-13) and Fresno Pacific (10-14) for their spot.

“I’m excited,” said Fujinaka. “The guys are excited for the last few weeks of the season. The biggest thing for them that I’m going to tell them is to take care of one game at a time and build off of it. I don’t think we can look too far ahead about it right now. We just have to take care of what’s in front of us.”

Sharks softball secures first PacWest series victory of the season

Sharks softball secures first PacWest series victory of the season

Sharks softball secures first PacWest series victory of the season

BY MICHAEL LASQUERO | HSRN
PUBLISHED APRIL 4, 2024

KANEOHE — Thing are starting to turn around for the Hawai’i Pacific softball team.

After recording back-to-back wins over Academy of Art on a Tuesday double-header, the Sharks secured their first PacWest series victory of the year when they defeated the Urban Knights by a score of 8-2 in the first game at Howard A. Okita Field Wednesday afternoon.

The six-run win was the largest margin of victory of the season by HPU (7-17 overall, 3-9 conference).

The Sharks broke open the game with a five-run rally in the bottom of the third that was highlighted by Tiari Hernandez’s first home run of the year. Her blast to left field went 200 yards and bounced off the top of the fence to give HPU a commanding 7-2 lead.

Pitcher Gianna Kerschbaum (2-5) picked up the complete game victory while throwing three strikeouts and scattering four hits across seven innings.

The Urban Knights (8-28, 4-18) snapped a 22-game losing streak in game two with a 5-3 win over the Sharks, but the home team gave the visitors everything they could handle in an extra-inning game that went nine frames.

HPU faced a two-run deficit for majority of the game until the sixth inning when Kerschbaum drove in Hoku Ching and Jewel Larson to tie the game at 3.

The Sharks will now go on the road in a 14-game road trip with stops in California and Hilo before wrapping regular season play against Chaminade on April 27 in the program’s final games in Kaneohe.

GAME ONE

GAME TWO

Hawai’i baseball a step ahead of HPU in 10-1 non-conference bounce back victory

Hawai’i baseball a step ahead of HPU in 10-1 non-conference bounce back victory

Hawai’i baseball a step ahead of HPU in 10-1 non-conference bounce back victory

BY MICHAEL LASQUERO | HSRN
PUBLISHED APRIL 2, 2024

HONOLULU — One team got back in the win column.

The other gained an invaluable experience that should pay dividends in the long run.

The University of Hawai’i baseball team bested visiting Hawai’i Pacific, 10-1, in a non-conference matchup at Les Murakami Stadium on a windy and wet Tuesday night.

The Rainbow Warriors got a much-needed win after getting swept by UC-Irvine last weekend to improve to 16-10 before a seven-game road trip over the next two weeks.

“We never lost confidence in our guys, we just knew that our time was coming,” said Jake Tsukada, who hit a solo home run to give the ‘Bows a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.

Hawai’i tallied 15 total hits in the win and used nine different pitchers to fuel its victory. Leadoff hitter Jordan Donahue and Tsukada had three hits apiece in the victory. Tsukada was also solid all-around as the designated hitter with three RBIs and three runs scored.

The Sharks (19-16) — who plays collegiately on the Division II level — had their opportunities to limit the ‘Bows, but Hawai’i was a step ahead on the base paths.

Donahue led off the bottom of the first inning with a single after beating the throw to first by HPU starting pitcher Jordan Otjen. After Tsukada’s first hit of the night, Matthew Miura loaded the bases on a bunt single after getting confirmation that he beat the throw by the replay officials. This led to a 2-0 Hawai’i lead after the first inning.

Later in the sixth inning the Sharks tried to get a runner out at home after Tsukada grounded into a fielder’s choice at second base, but Elijah Ickes was able to beat the throw to make it a 6-1 game. Hawai’i scored another run in the inning after HPU could not turn the double play in time to negate the score.

“Speed kills. It comes to the ballpark everyday,” said Hawai’i coach Rich Hill.

The Hawai’i pitching staff also combined for eight strikeouts as the ‘Bows stranded 12 HPU runners on the base paths.

“I thought we came ready to go. Couple of hits in the first inning didn’t go our way, just bang bang plays that ultimately their speed kinda took over there,” said HPU coach Dane Fujinaka.

“Our pitchers did a good job of keeping us in the game. Offensively we left a lot of guys on base but had really good at bats with two outs early in the game, just couldn’t get those hits to fall. I think those hits fall, it’s a little bit different ball game in the middle of that game there, but I’m proud of our guys. I thought we competed well today.”

The Sharks’ lone run came on a squeeze bunt by Noah Hata to score Skylar Agnew in the top of the fourth to make the score 4-1. Agnew reached in the inning with a double, the only HPU hit of the game that went for extra bases.

Even though his squad took the loss, Fujinaka knows that playing an opponent on a higher tier will help his team get better.

“They forced us to make quality pitches with two strikes, faced us to make quality pitches with guys on base. Ultimately, that’s the difference. They were able to capitalize on those moments,” said Fujinaka.

“We obviously need to be better at that and I truly think that we got better all around as a baseball club tonight. You’re going to do that playing good teams like the University of Hawai’i. They’re solid all around defensively, pitching, offensively. They’re going to make you earn everything. I love the way we competed tonight and I think we definitely got better.”

It was the first of three games against the Division II squads in the state for the ‘Bows. They will take on Chaminade on April 16 and Hawai’i-Hilo on April 30. Hill said the game against the Sharks was also beneficial for his squad before its road series against conference foe UC-Davis.

“These teams are very scary. They’ve got some athleticism,” said Hill. “I really like their lineup, one through nine. You never know about the pitching mid week, who’s doing what, who they’re saving, etc., but it’s a very well-coached team. This is super beneficiary for us to play a quality team before an important Big West series.”

Harrison Bodendorf, one of six left-handed pitchers that saw mound time for Hawai’i, was credited for his first win of the season. Otjen (2-3) took the loss for the Sharks.

Cory Ronan was the most effective pitcher for the ‘Bows with a scintillating second inning when he retired the side with just eight pitches.

“I like what Cory Ronen did,” said Hill. “He’s really been biding his time and working extremely hard.”

Hawai’i also needed to reshuffle the lineup a bit with designated hitter Austin Machado out with an illness. This saw Tsukada take the DH role while the rest of the order moved up a notch with Machado out. Ben Ziegler-Namoa was the cleanup hitter against HPU and drove in the first run of the game.

Kyson Donahue was also solid with two hits and an RBI in the heart of the order while Jake Quandt made the most of his opportunities starting in right field with a triple and a double in his first two at bats.

“I like Ben in that four-hole incase he leads off. He’s gotten so many walks, his on base percentage is so good, you know he’s going to put his bat on the ball,” said Hill.

“Kyson has really started to emerge as well so you want him in that RBI situation. Quandt was an emergency guy. We called that hit-and-run early in the game. I just wanted him to swing the bat. When he’s aggressive he’s much better.”

Mac Leisher logged the most innings pitched for the Sharks with three.

Chase Taylor and Kota Suzuki each had two hits to lead HPU in the loss.

The Sharks will return back to the Les Murakami on Sunday against UH-Hilo for a PacWest double-header. The first matchup is slated for 3:00 p.m.

“Honestly this was huge, being able to play here and get used to the park before conference play starts up again on Sunday against Hilo,” said Fujinaka.

“As you can see, the wind was crazy today. That was wild. I don’t remember the wind ever being like that, but it’s huge for our guys to be able to get comfortable at this park, playing on turf with this wind, it was huge. I think our guys got a little bit more comfortable today. Excited to get back after it on Sunday.” 

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

HPU men’s basketball visited the Special Education Center of Hawai’i’s Diamond Head location on Tuesday morning for SECOH’s March Madness event. | Photo Credit: HPU men’s basketball

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 2, 2024

HONOLULU – They call it the “Big Dance” for a reason. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s men’s basketball team continued an emphasis on giving back to the local community on Tuesday, visiting the Diamond Head location for the Special Education Center of Hawai’i (SECOH) to help prepare the clients for their “March Madness” event. 

SECOH’s mission, as stated on their website, is to provide personalized services to people with disabilities in the spirit of enriching lives. Working with clients of all ages, HPU had 12 representatives (three coaches, nine players) in attendance for a day full of fun. In honor of the NCAA Tournament for both men and women, SECOH and HPU’s men’s basketball team combined forces for an hour-and-a-half practice session for clients to go through basic basketball skills drills with the team – with some breaks for bonding on the side. 

It was something that clients had been looking forward to ahead of time, says HPU athletic director Debbie Snell – who has a son named Dillon that attends SECOH. Dillon, an avid Sharks fan that could be seen at numerous games inside the Shark Tank this past season, was just one of MANY people excited to work with HPU. 

The team arrived around 9:40 a.m. for the 10 a.m. session, excitedly anxious to get to work giving back to those in local communities in just another way. Despite having offseason workout sessions later in the day around noon, nine players (who didn’t have academic responsibilities as a time conflict) from last year’s squad piled into the Diamond Head location to help prepare those at SECOH for Wednesday’s modified and non-modified scrimmages. Along with head coach Jesse Nakanishi, associate head coach Patrick Frost and assistant coach and lead recruiter Cam Flabel, even soon-to-be graduate Tyrease Terell joined the Sharks in the fray despite his eligibility being used up. 

“The team is amazing and so good with folks from all different backgrounds and levels of ability,” athletic director Debbie Snell said about the men’s basketball program at HPU. “The way they jump right in and make the experience memorable for the participants is truly heart-warming.” 

It wasn’t all hoops, there were times for dance breaks and bonding between SECOH’s clients and the Sharks’ hoopers. 

“Today was an awesome, new experience for our team visiting SECOH and helping their clients with their March Madness event,” Flabel said in a phone interview with HSRN. “It was a great event filled with lots of smiles, laughter and dance moves! We were happy to help come together and make an impact and help make their day. It’s all about perspective and that is something we are reminded about daily.” 

The fun day is just another example of the continuous work that Nakanishi and his program do in the community. During the 2023-24 regular season, Hawai’i Pacific men’s basketball received the runner-up title for the 2024 Division II Award of Excellence while being the winner for the honor from the PacWest conference. Among the events the team participated, planned and put together were Maui Food Drives, basketball clinics to support the rebuild of the island after the Maui wildfires and the first annual “Field Trip Game” in conjunction with the Shark Bite Mentorship programs the team participates in with Noelani Elementary School and Mānoa Elementary School. 

*Note: Photos provided by HPU Men’s Basketball*

HPU and Chaminade split non-conference softball double-header

HPU and Chaminade split non-conference softball double-header

HPU and Chaminade split non-conference softball double-header

BY MICHAEL LASQUERO | HSRN
PUBLISHED MARCH 17, 2024

KANEOHE — These two teams sure like to make things fun at the end.

Hawai’i Pacific and Chaminade split a non-conference softball double-header Saturday afternoon with each team notching a one-run victory at Howard A. Okita Field.

The last time the two teams played, the Silverswords took both games with an extra-inning 6-5 win and a 2-1 win over the Sharks on March 3.

HPU was finally able to strike back against its rival on Saturday with a walk-off 6-5 win in game one with shortstop Jewel Larson providing the game-winning RBI. This helped the Sharks snap an 11-game losing streak to earn their fourth win of the year.

Chaminade trailed for most of game two, but surged ahead on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Desiree Bravo in the fifth before taking the lead on shortstop Taryn Fujioka’s single in the top of the seventh. Larson nearly played hero again for HPU, but a double-play ended the game to secure the 2-1 victory for the Swords (9-7).

The game-sealing play went from center fielder Summer Buck to Fujioka to catcher Larchelle Tuifao to get the game-tying run out at home trying to score from second before Tuifao fired it to third baseman Jaeda Kumaewa-Cabunoc to get Larson out at the corner.

Fujioka was the star of the afternoon, batting 7-for-8 overall with two RBIs in the leadoff spot.

HPU (4-16) tallied nine hits in both games, with Larson and Taimane Panganoran getting three hits each across the two contests.

Taylor Thompson (3-5) was credited with the complete game pitching win for the Sharks in game one. She gave up 11 hits and five unearned runs, but HPU was able to rally with three unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh for the win.

Getting the win in the pitching circle for the Swords in game two was Kamryn Lopez (5-2).

The Sharks will not play another game until next month when they take on Academy of Art in a four-game series that starts on April 2.

Chaminade will have 10 days off before their 12-game road trip in California when the Swords resume PacWest play against Concordia University-Irvine on March 26.

GAME 1

GAME 2

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 7, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – The Sharks continued to hammer home the point in their postgame press conference. 

“No moral victories,” HPU’s first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi repeated. 

Yet following Hawai’i Pacific’s 56-55 loss to #6 seed Azusa Pacific Thursday afternoon, it’s difficult not to see those mini-victories that had been piling up all year for the Sharks. Despite that mounting momentum for HPU, APU had different plans for Round 3 of Sharks-Cougars. 

Hawai’i Pacific (18-11, 13-7 PacWest) struggled out the gate, going the opening three minutes of action without scoring after APU’s Ken West drilled a step back 3-pointer for the game’s first points on the opening possession. Charlie Weber finally got the Sharks on the board with a close finish inside at the 16:11 mark before Maj Dusanic delivered the first lead of the day to HPU on the very next possession with a nifty finish of his own. 

APU, though struggling offensively overall, caught fire from behind the arc in the early going as the team’s first four made shots came behind the 3-point line with forward George Reidy serving as the catalyst of the Cougars’ 12-6 lead just over eight minutes into the game. 

Nakanishi’s squad, just as they had all season, responded before allowing the game to get out of hand by attacking the paint and rattling off the next eight points to re-take the lead with just over nine minutes left in the first half, 14-12. The Sharks pushed the lead to four following a Melo Sanchez triple with 6:11 remaining before Azusa Pacific was able to knot things up at 21-all after a Reidy layup two minutes later. 

APU grabbed the lead to close out the half, going on a 9-4 run over the final two and a half minutes to take a five-point advantage into the break after redshirt freshman Michael Saba drilled a corner three at the horn to make it 30-25. 

Sanchez drained another three to open the 2nd half to bring the Sharks back within a possession, but Azusa Pacific’s Bryce Sloan would answer right back with a longball of his own on the next possession. HPU’s Weber tried his luck with a straightaway 3-point make before Reidy continued his hot shooting for another Cougars’ response.  

HPU would flip the script, scoring the next ten points to take a four-point lead of their own by the 12-minute mark before Saba snatched the lead back for Azusa Pacific quickly with five straight points to give a 42-40 advantage to the Cougars with 11:01 remaining. 

The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes, seeing the game tied up by the Sharks before APU would take the lead right back. The preseason PacWest favorites after falling in last season’s championship game, Azusa Pacific showed off the team’s championship DNA as they fought off valiant efforts from Hawai’i Pacific over the final four minutes to cling on and upset the Sharks, 56-55. 

Azusa Pacific’s George Reidy posted his 3rd-highest scoring output of the year, leading all scorers with 18 points while going a tidy 7-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-9 from long range. APU guard Bryce Sloan added 12 points, five assists and eight turnovers in the win while All-PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West ended the afternoon with 8 points. 

APU will take on #2 seed and PacWest regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday, March 7 with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT/12:30 p.m. PST. 

Hawai’i Pacific was led by Melo Sanchez’s 14 points of 5-of-15 shooting as the 2nd-team all-conference guard dealt with foul trouble for most of the contest. Charlie Weber ended the day with 11 points while 3rd-team all-conference pick Diggy Winbush did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss for the Sharks. 

While Nakanishi didn’t want to hear or talk about moral victories postgame, it’s apparent that his Hawai’i Pacific program is on the rise with eyes on more than just a PacWest Conference tournament berth. With all but one player expected to return to the Sharks next year, HPU doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere but up. 

Either way, Nakanishi says it’s back to work for his team as soon as possible. 

A PacWest championship is the goal – stated by Nakanishi himself. 

Thursday served as a setback, sure, but only makes for a greater comeback.