Crusaders wait for states

Joshua Nakamura delivered a pitch in the top of the second inning. Photo by Jamm Aquino


Some post-game thoughts following Saint Louis’ 4-2 win over Mid-Pacific on Monday for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s first-half title — and automatic state-tournament berth.

• First-year Saint Louis coach George Gusman spent 12 years as Kamehameha’s junior-varsity coach. Several of his players echoed the same sentiment about their new coach: he’s all about discipline.

When I visited him for a quick chat a month ago, the Crusaders had just gotten past Kamehameha 8-6 in a bittersweet win for Gusman against his old friends, but the victories continue to pile up for Saint Louis, now 8-1 in league play.

“We wanted to change a whole bunch of stuff. This is just one,” he said. “You know what? I feel good for them. They’ve been down so long. It’s been a little tough, all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Long is relative, of course. Saint Louis reached the state tourney two seasons ago in coach Duane Fraticelli’s first season. Last year, the Crusaders slipped to 8-8 in ILH play and Fraticelli was released.

• Key contributions continue to be made by seniors like Chris Chung and Moses Samia. Chung has matured on the mound and has a hunger to play. He nagged his coaches for a chance to pitch against MPI on just a few days rest.

“We needed this win. We were playing so good this year,” he after wrapping up the win with a flawless inning. “If we lost, the first round would’ve been a waste. We’ve had great games and never gave in.”

Defense is a huge reason the Crusaders have won close games. Last year’s team was solid defensively until late in the year, when errors in key situations derailed their post-season hopes. Chung says it’s more than on-field performance.

“We’re a much closer team this year. We’re more of a family now,” he said. “We have clutch hits. Coach brings a lot of discipline, taking all the little things seriously. It’s made a big difference.”

Chung, a right-hander, has signed to play for former islander Boy Eldredge at Southern Utah.

Samia had a superb week, capping it off with a 2-for-3 day against the Owls, including a two-run single in the sixth to seal it.

“I was just thinking I had to clutch up,” the two-sport standout said. “That’s what baseball’s all about.”

His key hit came on an 0-2 count.

“I just shortened up my swing and made contact. It’s about RBIs and getting on base,”  said Samia, who has consistently been a contact hitter.

He has overcome a knee injury suffered a few years back. The knee has gotten better with rehab, Samia said, and he’s more than ready to play football this fall for the University of Hawaii.

Baseball at UH would be another dream fulfilled, Samia said, but that’s not an option, not yet, anyway.

• One of the best defensive players in the state is Saint Louis third baseman Kalei Contrades, who got a rave review from his coach. Contrades made several plays from the hot corner, showing range, consistency and an accurate arm.

“Our coaches are on us 100 percent. They really encourage discipline on defense,” the junior said.

Leadoff hitter Jordan Fukumoto went 3-for-3 in a stellar effort. Fukumoto was one of the top receivers in the state during football season, a slotback who continually dissected defenses with precise route-running and sticky hands. However, the football team’s hot start ended cold as Kamehameha went on to win the ILH and the state title.

Making the state tourney on the diamond softened that blow for the senior, who was part of the ’08 baseball team that advanced to the state tourney.

“This feels better (than 2008) because it’s our team. We’re seniors and it’s our responsibility,” he said. “We’ve got discipline. Coach puts pressure on us at practice so game time it’s much easier.”

Fukumoto has signed to play football at Pacific (Ore.), where former Saint Louis assistant coach Jacob Yoro is on staff.

• As for Mid-Pacific, it was a very good first half that netted no state berth. The Owls’ only losses were to Saint Louis. Wins over Punahou, Kamehameha and ‘Iolani, as well as much-improved Damien and Pac-Five … the one consolation is that the second round awaits and two more state berths are there for the taking.

“(Mid-Pacific) is good. They put a lot of pressure on our defense,” Fukumoto said. “They’re the only team that puts that much pressure on us.”

Contrades doesn’t expect a letdown by Saint Louis.

“We want to finish off the regular season strong. Winning gives us a boost of confidence, but we can’t be lax out there. We want to come out strong,” he said.

• The most surprising and, perhaps, most pivotal maneuver was the solid start by Saint Louis pitcher Joshua Nakamura.

He easily could’ve backed off after being cut as a junior. Instead, he played in the AJA league and continued to improve. His hard-biting curve ball — which resembles more of a hard slurve than anything else — is old-school. Nakamura threw it without hesitation and at just about any time in the count.

“My dad used to call it a drop,” the senior said.

Trying out for the team again, as a senior, wasn’t easy.

“It’s a new coach, a new year. He didn’t see us before,” Nakamura said. “Tryouts lasted one week. At times, I thought I’d be cut. At first, I wanted to go to the outfield, but I made up my mind to go strictly as a pitcher.”

For Crusader Nation, that  decision may have been one of the very best on campus all school year. His first-ever start turned into a key part of Saint Louis’ return to the state tourney — very good news for fans and alums who’ve been clamoring for a state-title run.

Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin


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