Chaminade competes, never retreats in first full season in over 40 years

Chaminade competes, never retreats in first full season in over 40 years

Chaminade competes, never retreats in first full season in 40 years

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 29, 2024

HONOLULU – Following a weekend that saw rival HPU sweep them, the Chaminade Silverswords had smiles on their faces. 

On Senior Night, the team celebrated a pair of seniors that had a bit of a different experience through their final year of eligibility. No, they hadn’t helped them win the game that night, but the team relished the opportunity to be out on the field together playing baseball. 

The final record for the Silverswords is an uninspiring one at first glance, an expected casualty of a program in phase one of a total rebuild after more than four decades away from the diamond. Upon further inspection, it’s easy to see how Chad Konishi’s team has built a foundation for the future. 

“Really proud of [the team’s] efforts. I tell people that I don’t think our record is indicative of how hard we played,” the first-year skipper for the Swords said after Chaminade’s Senior Night game. “Success isn’t built on one-year wins and losses. I think the experience that the young kids got, the [Junior College] kids taking it to the next level, all that kind of stuff [is important].” 

Built up of 26 first-year college athletes, a various number of transfers and a few local boys returning to suit up for baseball in Hawai’i once again, the Swords scratched across 15 wins while providing plenty of scares to other teams – including the University of Hawai’i during a 2-0 loss on April 16 at Les Murakami Stadium where the Chaminade pitching staff only allowed four hits all night. While Konishi’s hope was to eclipse the 20-win threshold, struggles closing out close games crushed those chances as CUH fell 12 times by two runs or fewer with nine of those losses coming by a single run. 

Typically, “experience” for young players at each level includes a fair share of mistakes. This year’s edition of the Silverswords were no different as they tied with UH-Hilo for the most errors committed in the PacWest this season with 84 blunders while the youthful pitching staff allowed a league-high 286 earned runs across 48 contests as they worked on honing their craft. 

“Could we work smarter? Yeah, but I was really proud of their competitiveness. Some days we lacked execution, some days we didn’t,” Konishi reflected. 

The seeds for success are sprinkled all throughout the season for Chaminade, who tied for the least amount of total home runs allowed this season with just 27 long balls against the Swords’ staff. The offense of the Swords, while lacking power, was built upon patience, finishing the season with the 3rd-most walks drawn by any team in the conference. 

“We don’t have our own field, we practice at the Ala Wai and not one day did [the team] ever complain practicing there or whatever,” Konishi proudly said of his team. “They showed up early in the mornings for practice, they worked hard.” 

That hard work didn’t come accidentally. A sizable portion of the Chaminade roster felt overlooked or underrecruited, coming to put on the blue and white for an opportunity to prove themselves at the next level, either from JUCO or high school. With them, Konishi needed some senior leadership for his foundational team. He found exactly that when Kailua product and Cal State Fullerton transfer JT Navyac gave Konishi and staff a chance to help him close out his college career at home. The pitcher/infielder spent three seasons in California, appearing in 102 games before joining the Silverswords’ historic first group back on the field for his final year of eligibility. 

He gave eight games of pitching to the Swords while appearing in the field for 44 total contests, racking up 36 hits at the plate. Playing one final time at home inside the friendly confines of Les Murakami Stadium, Navyac twirled a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts in his final pitching appearance and recorded an RBI single in his final at-bat. 

Navyac said the highlight of the season for himself came during those final seven frames against HPU. 

“Being able to start, get three strikeouts and then my last at-bat having an RBI single is awesome,” the senior said. “Being able to play in front of my family and friends was awesome. Coach Chad [Konishi] gave me the opportunity and I thought ‘why not?’ and I had a great time. We improved a lot, had fun and as a first-year program I think we made a lot of steps forward. A lot of things to work on and understand but I think there’s a good future for Chaminade.” 

Konishi acknowledged it being important to bring the utility man home for the future of the program, even if it only meant one year of having Navyac on the roster. The longtime baseball coach was extremely thankful that the Saint Louis alum gave his program a chance over other local competitors HPU and UH-Hilo. The veteran leadership of Navyac allowed for continued growth of three high-school shortstops into a first year of college by showing them the right way to go about their business on and off the field. 

Chaminade’s other senior, Haruki Kitazaki, was an example of taking your chance and running with it after he worked his way into the lineup midseason and never let go of the spot. After originally being on the block to not travel with the team, Kitazaki changed his season at Biola with a 2-for-4 day at the plate and a run scored in the second game of a doubleheader, starting the final 12 games of the year after that performance. 

“His time came up and he was put into the lineup, and he started to have some success. He hadn’t come out of the lineup until we took him out in honor of his senior inning,” Konishi shined about Kitazaki. “[Navyac and Kitazaki] couldn’t be two better kids that played for us for one year … [we were] fortunate enough to have both of them.” 

While the two leaders will graduate and move on, Chaminade returns multiple intriguing pieces such as first-year catcher Joe DeCoeur, who smacked a solo homerun out of Les Murakami Stadium’s confines in the Swords’ season-ending double-header against Hawai’i Pacific for his first long ball of the year. Fellow first-year Evon Williams showed glimmers of potential at third base and at the plate with hits in five of his final eight games. On the mound, first-year right-hander Rhyn Chambers “emerged” as a standout with a 1.66 ERA, allowing just 11 hits to 26 strikeouts across 16 appearances for the Silverswords. 

“I think the future is bright,” Konishi said. “I know we’re not there … we’re close but yet we’re not close, you know? I think we’re on our way, but we have to make some strides.” 

The head skipper pointed to the weight room as a key area for the Swords to invest time in during the offseason as the team hit a conference-low 12 home runs in 48 games. With more than 20 high-school players seeing considerable time in the field, Chaminade’s core was made up of a more youthful collection than opponents. 

A full offseason program for strength and conditioning for his young players will go a long way, says Konishi. With added strength and stamina, an already talented group looks to increase production and ranking among PacWest participants. 

“As I said in the beginning of the fall, I think putting a team out on the field was an accomplishment in itself,” Konishi stated. “We’re hoping that guys return and that they enjoy their experience here in Hawai’i, at school and the with program. We’ll start to fill in the holes that we think we need to replace.” 

Local Pro, College coaches give back with USA Baseball Community Clinic at Farrington

Local Pro, College coaches give back with USA Baseball Community Clinic at Farrington

Local Pro, College coaches give back with USA Baseball Community Clinic at Farrington

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 18, 2023

KALIHI — Ten coaches, many with local Hawai’i ties that are sprinkled across the collegiate and professional baseball and softball landscape, came together this past Saturday evening for a five-hour clinic at Farrington HS in conjunction with USA Baseball — open to the public with a donation of $10 or more to the Maui Food Bank.  

In all, 15,000 meals were raised for the Maui Food Bank with San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Sean Manaea matching donations — wanting to help the cause. 

The event was split into five 45-minute presentations covering culture building, infield mechanics, pitching, bunting & baserunning along with a hitting Q&A panel with current and former professionals, all led by Hilo-native, Waiakea alum and current Cleveland Guardians Major League field coordinator Kai Correa. 

It was the third straight year that Correa has been able to put on the local clinic but the first time partnering with USA Baseball, who was referred to as a perfect partner for local Hawai’i baseball programs due to the amount of free resources USA Baseball provides — helping combat the lack of resources many programs face in Hawai’i. 

After a brief welcome from Andrew Bartman, the Director of Coaching Development for USA Baseball, Hawai’i Pacific University baseball head coach Dane Fujinaka began the informational portion of the clinic with a presentation about culture building and realistic player development plans. Among the main points touched on by Fujinaka and HPU strength & conditioning coach Skylar Yamamoto were making sure the team and individuals set goals before the season and to make sure those goals are attainable. 

CLE Guardians Major League fielding coordinator and Hilo native Kai Correa introduces HPU's Dane Fujinaka.

Yamamoto and Fujinaka often referred to the “lowest hanging fruit” that provides the most impact in players. To show this, the two coaches presented four case studies of players on the Sharks’ roster that increased pitch velocity, command, hitting for power and hitting for contact between spring and fall league games. The key often was that improvements were made in minimal ways but in impactful categories, looking to average exit velocity and maximum exit velocity for hitters and looking at strike percentage and fastball velocity averages for pitchers. 

As for culture building, creating healthy internal competition amongst the team with training groups and keep results posted for accountability. Fujinaka referenced the HPU baseball social media with graphics showing the team’s hardest throwers being posted as a list for everyone to see. That small piece of external proof of progress creates more intense competition while not gnawing at team camaraderie. 

Chaminade baseball’s head skipper Chad Konishi took the stage next, sharing the fundamentals of pitching for those in attendance with a focus on five specific keys to look at during the delivery of a pitcher — Balance, separation, direction, extension and anchor. 

Konishi believes that good pitching is built upon repeatable mechanics that are efficient. With a focus on those five keys, coaches can look to main categories to create a throwing motion for pitchers that is consistent and allows for instruction that is simple and connects with the player. 

The Silverswords head coach also discussed strategies for keeping runners close, the desire of what a pitcher wants to accomplish in controlling the run game and the body balance of pitchers. 

The clinic shifted to offense as University of Hawai’i-Hilo coach Jensen Sato got a chance to share the Vulcans’ secrets on developing strong running games on the base paths and proper bunting techniques and why each can be used in games. During the segment, Sato talked about the amount of preparation that goes into being a quality bunter and base runner before the game and moment that each skill is executed. 

Like many things in baseball, Sato shared that base running is built off of feel — the Vulcans coach runners to take the same lead each time by keeping the same routine for certain bases. Similarly for bunting, excellence in the technique comes from preparation by getting a player’s feet ready and balanced before trying to “catch” the ball with the bat to deaden it in the dirt. 

Those in attendance were treated to a special attendee as University of Washington softball head coach Heather Tarr spoke about the Huskies’ successful ways and how they’ve been able to build an elite program — presenting the blueprint of championship seasons. The near-lifetime Husky coach dropped multiple tidbits of knowledge and tools for young coaches to use but made sure to drive home that coaches and teams knew their “why” of a season, understanding that the “why” was the foundation and the “how” and “what” of seasons would help carry only as far as the foundation. 

Next was the Q&A panel that featured Kansas City Royals’ hitting coach Keoni DeRenne, Tampa Bay Rays’ prospect Shane Sasaki, former Chicago Cubs’ prospect Christian Donahue and former Milwaukee Brewers’ draft pick KJ Harrison to talk about various hitting topics, sharing their personal views on hitting and some of the best drills they found for working on specific movements in swings. Correa led the panel as the question mediator, keeping the conversation moving at a quick pace but allowing time for informational responses from the guests on stage. 

Correa closed the evening with an informative infield presentation of his own with the assistance of Fujinaka and former Washington softball superstar and current USA Softball player Sis Bates. The former San Francisco Giants interim manager talked about the five outs that are unaccounted for from regular ground ball outs, fly outs to the outfield and strikeouts. In that group, Correa showed, are rundowns, “stretch & picks”, pop flies, relays, re-directs and tags. In each of those instances there are little mechanical keys that great ball players in baseball and softball are able to do naturally without thinking to increase effectiveness. Some of those keys included preparation of the body before the ball arrives on a throw, efficient transitions from glove to hand and mental preparation of where the ball needs to go depending on placement of throw, among many other things. 

Overall, Correa and coaches were pleased with the outcome of the local clinic, hoping to continue the partnership with USA Baseball for years to come with the love of the sport in Hawai’i.