The season chugged along, a gauntlet of merciless forays in the wickedly difficult Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
Sure, Mid-Pacific was extremely young. They could take down a seasoned foe by meticulous means. ‘Iolani? Very scary, particularly for any opponent who considered the Raiders a peg down from the top. At that peak level, it was Saint Louis, Punahou and Kamehameha vying for not just an ILH crown, but a state-tournament berth.
During that crescendo to the finish, the teams with the most depth at starting pitcher prevailed: Saint Louis and Kamehameha. The Crusaders got a whale of late-season, clutch performances from Dylan Lum, Chase Meilleur and, most prominently, Dawson Yamaguchi.
The left-handed fireballer — voted Pitcher of the Year in the Star-Advertiser All-State balloting — did something that doesn’t occur much at any level. In the midst of the current, he added a new technique. The ace in his stack of weapons: a slider. The senior had more or less mastered location on his other pitches, including his fastball. But learning the intricacies of the slider had eluded Yamaguchi.
“One night we were at practice at Ala Wai. I felt like I needed a new pitch with the ‘it’ factor. I asked Chris,” said Yamaguchi, referring to former standout pitcher Christopher Chung. “He has been a big help. He told me what helped him get outs. ‘How do you throw a slider?’ I watched videos on YouTube. He was there and I was throwing bullpen before live pitching. He showed me the combination of the grip and how I release the ball.
“The key is not forcing it.”
Immediately, during practice live pitching, a teammate belted a double to left off Yamaguchi. His confidence wavered, but he kept working, kept tinkering until he found the right mix of technique and art.
“Patrick Caronas actually hit the double. I wasn’t discouraged. I knew it would be trial and error,” he said.
From there, Yamaguchi’s contribution to the Crusaders’ league-championship run went from good to excellent. Like many other young hurlers, he had been cautious about throwing breaking balls due to the rash of UCL injuries.
The final numbers are superlative:
> 51 2/3 innings pitched
> 33 hits allowed
> 7 runs, all earned
> 33 strikeouts
> 13 walks
> 7-1 record, 0.95 ERA
Control. Velocity. Location. And ultimately, that almost unhittable slider, once Yamaguchi worked out the kinks.