HPU sweeps through weekend set with Chaminade, cruise into PacWest Tournament

HPU sweeps through weekend set with Chaminade, cruise into PacWest Tournament

HPU sweeps through weekend set with Chaminade, cruise into PacWest Tournament

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 28, 2024

HONOLULU – Things went swimmingly for one team at the Les last weekend. 

Facing off with O’ahu-rival Chaminade (15-33) for a four-game series and the Swords’ senior celebration, the Hawai’i Pacific University Sharks needed four wins to surpass the 30-win mark – a threshold the program had not broken since the 2016 season. After a pair of wins on Saturday, Hawai’i Pacific had clinched a top-2 seed heading into the PacWest Tournament as the Sharks finally returned to postseason play for the first time since 2010. 

Still, Dane Fujinaka had his squad’s eyes on higher prizes with hopes at making the program a near shoe-in for a selection to the 2024 NCAA Tournament, regardless of a PacWest Championships title or not. A huge step towards making an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume: win 30-plus games. 

With victories of 7-6 and 9-3 over Chaminade on Sunday, the Sharks’ regular-season goal was reached as Fujinaka’s team pushed its record to 30-20 overall, going 17-15 during PacWest competition for the second-best finish among tournament-eligible programs. In a year that has been up-and-down to the max, HPU is back on the upswing at the perfect time. 

“We put it together for all four games [versus Chaminade],” said the Sharks’ head coach after his team’s 9-3 victory Sunday night. “I’m pleased with the way we’ve played, but it’s obviously great having [the momentum of a six-game win streak] going into the tournament that we’re going to play in. [There are] four really good teams where anybody can beat everybody, so we’ve got to be ready to go.” 

GAME 1: Hawai’i Pacific 7, Chaminade 6 

Xaiver Stoker got the start for the Silverswords as Shea Blanchard took the mound for the Sharks in Sunday’s first game. 

Stoker quickly became acquainted with a streaky HPU lineup as the Sharks pushed across a pair of runs in the 1st inning with a 2-out RBI ground-rule double from right fielder Noah Hata. The Swords scratched a run across in the bottom of the frame to cut the lead in half, 2-1. 

HPU worked quickly to reclaim the multi-run advantage as Haydon Huff led off the inning with a single, was pushed over to second on a sacrifice bunt and came around to score on a Nicholas Jio RBI single to left field. The Sharks extended their lead in the top of the 3rd as Hata and Huff scored on a base-hit up the middle by Elijah Igawa to make it 5-1 while Blanchard continued to spin a gem on the mound with three consecutive scoreless frames after his one-run opening inning. 

Chaminade began to get to Blanchard once again in the bottom of the 5th, putting the first two batters on with a walk and a well-struck single before Owen Schnaible came on in relief for the right-handed starter. The call to the bullpen didn’t help matters much as Schnaible hit the first batter he faced before a fielder’s choice, E-6 allowed a pair Swords to score and cut the HPU lead down in half after five innings of play, 5-3. 

CUH freshman Jackson Peper made it a whole new ballgame in the bottom of the 6th, drilling an RBI double to left field off of HPU’s Mac Leisher that allowed a pair of Silverswords to score to tie the game at 5-all after six innings. 

Again, Hawai’i Pacific calmly responded as shortstop TJ Smith led off the top of the 7th with a single before coming around to score the go-ahead run when a Chase Taylor single skipped by the Chaminade left fielder all the way to the fence, allowing Taylor to advance to third himself. He would come in to score moments later as Hata hit an RBI sacrifice fly to right field to give the Sharks a 7-5 lead. 

Chaminade would make one final push as freshman Joey DeCoeur blasted his first career homerun over the fence at Les Murakami Stadium to bring the Swords within a run in the 8th, but HPU closer Ryan Inouye slammed the door shut in the bottom of the 9th with his 13th save of the year, a new single-season program record for the Sharks. 

“Hats off to [Chaminade] and the coaching staff,” Fujinaka said of the Silverswords. “Chad [Konishi] has put together a really good team and a really good young core group. [I think] they’re going to be really competitive from here on out, they were this year even being their first year.” 

GAME 2: Hawai’i Pacific 9, Chaminade 3 

The night’s second contest started slower for the Sharks, being retired in order as Chaminade senior and Saint Louis alum JT Navyac struck out the side in his final appearance on a college mound. 

It would be the Silverswords striking first in the bottom of the 2nd as fellow Chaminade senior Haruki Kitazaki singled to center, moving Navyac to second base while scoring Ryan Ruch. Freshman Jaren Baris brought Navyac home a couple batters later with a single down the right field line, making it a 2-0 advantage for the Swords to open Senior Night. 

Hawai’i Pacific struck back in a big way in the top of the 3rd, tallying five runs while recording just one out take control of the game. Infielder Caleb Millikan batted twice in the inning, leading things off with a single before grounding out to shortstop for the final out. 

The lead ballooned to 9-2 in the 5th when the Sharks’ bats came alive again. Chase Taylor doubled home Skylar Agnew to re-start the scoring before coming around to score himself on a 2-out single from Frankie Peralez. After Peralez stole second, Millikan snuck a ball fair down the right field line for an RBI triple and scored HPU’s final run the very next batter as Jio delivered another RBI double. 

Shea Lake enjoyed a sparkling night on the bump in game two for the Sharks, spinning five strong innings with just four hits allowed, striking out three while only allowing a singular earned run and two runs total in the win. He gave way to Owen Schnaible, who gave up a run in just 0.1 innings pitched in the sixth as Chaminade’s Navyac had a run-scoring single poke through the middle of the infield. 

After Vicente Molina calmed things down for HPU in the bottom of the 6th to maintain a 9-3 lead, Jeremy Kahle locked it down to finish the Sharks’ 30th win of the year with a pair of strikeouts in the 7th to send Chaminade packing into the offseason. 

“It’s huge,” Fujinaka said of HPU clinching 30 wins on the year. “From Day 1 [this season], our goal was to win at least 30 games and we thought that would put us in a spot to make the tournament and have a chance at an at-large bid.” 

WHAT NEXT? 

Hawai’i Pacific now awaits the PacWest Championship tournament, which takes place this season at Azusa Pacific’s home field in California. The Sharks will face off against Concordia-Irvine in the opening round of the double-elimination, no-byes tournament. HPU fell in the first of four games against CUI back on April 12, dropping a one-run decision 4-3 before sweeping through the following three contests in Irvine, California with three wins by outscoring the Golden Eagles over those games, 31-11. 

“Offensively, [when] we put the ball in play, we play small ball, we run a lot of action,” Fujinaka said when asked about what a fully-clicking HPU team looks like. “[When we are] successful on the mound, we’re able to get ahead and throw our pitches … and on defense, we take care of the ball. I think when we’re doing those three things, it’s really hard to beat us.” 

CUI’s Jake Covey spun 7.2 innings of 2-run ball against the Sharks in that April 12 loss, striking out eight HPU batters while working around consistent traffic on the basepaths. According to Fujinaka, the Sharks are expecting to see Covey once again to open the tournament. For HPU, it’s a chance at redemption in the program’s first appearance in the two-year history of the conference tournament. 

The tournament’s top seed is three-time defending regular season PacWest champions Point Loma, who has spent a majority of the season in the national rankings. Tournament hosts Azusa Pacific round out the top four teams in the conference. 

With eyes on a potential postseason berth, Fujinaka and HPU have eyes on locking in a spot with the program’s first PacWest title in baseball since 2010. To do so, a gauntlet of talented teams awaits them. The Sharks went a combined 7-5 in the three respective series against the other tournament qualifiers, sweeping APU while being swept by PLNU. 

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 23, 2024

WAIPAHU – The Hawai’i Pacific Sharks baseball team continued the program’s best start to a year since the 2016 season on Thursday night, racking up 20 hits on the way to a 14-5 win over island-rival Chaminade (5-9, 0-1 PacWest) to begin PacWest conference play for both teams. 

It was the third meeting between the programs this season – the first two came a couple weekends ago during the “Big Island Bash” over on Hilo when the teams split the matchups with an 8-7 extra-inning win for Chaminade in game one before HPU returned fire with a 5-1 victory the very next day. Sharks’ freshman starting pitcher Jordan Otjen spun a gem in his second college game in the February 10 win for HPU, going seven innings while giving up just one run against the Silverswords at Wong Stadium. 

It was once again Otjen getting the nod for Dane Fujinaka’s squad on Thursday at Central Oahu Regional Park against Chaminade. The freshman right-hander continued his instant production at the college level by spinning six beautiful innings for the Sharks, striking out five Chaminade batters while allowing just one run across six hits to pick up his second win of the season. 

His performance was complimented by an impressive offensive outburst for Hawai’i Pacific as the Sharks tallied a dozen runs before the fourth inning had been completed, six in the bottom half of the first frame as HPU sent 11 batters to the plate to open things up. 

HPU (9-1, 1-0 PacWest) tacked on another run in each of the 7th and 8th innings to stall Chaminade’s comeback efforts as the Sharks grabbed their fourth consecutive victory, 14-5, in the first of a four-game weekend set with the Silverswords. 

Chaminade starter Mac Elske was tagged with the loss for Chad Konishi’s program, dropping the junior to 1-1 on the season after going just three innings while giving up nine runs (7 ER) over 10 hits. The Swords committed six errors in the loss to the Sharks’ zero. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s offense was led by a monster effort from shortstop TJ Smith, who went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and a pair of RBI for the Sharks. In total, eight different HPU batters finished the night with a run batted in as Hawai’i Pacific University remained near the top of every offensive category among PacWest teams through ten games. 

HPU third baseman Skylar Agnew tallied three hits and an RBI in the win, continuing a nice start to his junior season as he ranks second in the PacWest in batting average at .444 through his eight games this year. 

The Sharks and Swords return to the diamond on Friday evening for a non-conference meeting with first pitch scheduled around 6 p.m. HT before playing a twin bill on Saturday with one of the games holding PacWest implications. 

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.