Playing without spectators, Saint Louis marched to an ILH baseball title in May.
Playing in front of fans with a tournament title at stake — a total rush. Aiva Arquette, Saint Louis’ junior shortstop, embraced every moment of the inaugural Oahu Classic.
“There was an adrenaline rush, something that wasn’t there for most of the season. The excitement was there the whole season, but the fans give you a different feeling. It was exciting with them in the stands, especially with how the games went, too. They were all great games,” the Cal Poly commit said.
Saint Louis edged rival Mid-Pacific, 5-4, in the final on Tuesday night at Hans L’Orange Park, finishing 11-3 overall in a condensed season that followed the heartbreak of the 2020 cancelled season.
“Our main goal was to make it to the championship, but playing Mid-Pac was no surprise,” Arquette said. “They’re an excellent ball club, coached really well, and they have some studs. It’s really a competition when we play them every single time.”
The tourney title capped an epic five-day event organized by longtime coach and hitting instructor Vern Ramie. The original field was comprised of eight teams, the top four teams of the ILH and top four of the OIA. However, Kamehameha and Punahou withdrew, leaving two teams — one of them ILH champion Saint Louis — with a first-round bye.
The marathon of games was carefully and fully cultivated by Ramie and his staff of volunteers.
“It was unbelievable. You had to be there to appreciate the level of play and the fans,” Crusaders coach George Gusman said. “The people, the players, going back and forth, some people stated that they haven’t seen games like that in a long, long time.”
The sight of fans in and around the facility at Hans, plus the electricity in a string of close games restored a sense of normalcy.
“The play of both teams, the intensity, the crowd, stands were full down the left field line. In the outfield, people in chairs and tents. It was fun to be a part of,” Gusman said. “Dunn (Muramaru, Mid-Pacific coach) strategizing, I’m coming back with something else. Lots and lots of mutual respect.”
Caleb Lomavita has been a thorn in the side of the Owls. He had a two-home run, complete-game performance in the ILH semifinals against MPI. In the Oahu Classic, he hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game on Monday, only to see the Owls win the game and force a championship game.
The next night, Arquette pitched for the first time this spring, shutting down Mid-Pacific in the final inning of Saint Louis’ victory.
A key play by Saint Louis defensively in the top of the seventh was huge. Outfielder Tamatoa Mata‘afa-Alferos chased down a hit, fired the ball to relay man Nu‘u Contrades, who then delivered a dart to Lomavita at home plate.
“Oh, it was close. Nu‘u threw a dime to me. He gave me a long hop. Thank God we practiced it. It was kind of scary,” Lomavita said. “Earlier, Cody (Antone) threw a ball and it died (on the grass), so had to make sure I stayed down this time.”
Arquette, like Lomavita, has tremendous versatility.
“Aiva shut the door for us. It was simple. He’s a thrower, got outs. Blowing the ball past some of the Mid-Pac guys. He’s 6-4, so his release point is different,” Lomavita said. “He has a nice little looping curve. It’s pretty nice for only pitching one time all year.”
The bottom of the seventh was a microcosm of the trust between Gusman and Lomavita.
“Caleb singled, Aiva had a sacrifice bunt and then they intentionally walked Xander (Sielken),” Gusman said. “Then we stole third with Caleb.”
Unnecessary? Probably. But it was calculated.
“Coach didn’t give me a signal (to steal). I was asking for it. I was reading the pitcher, I think it was Ethan Toyama, for three pitches and I caught his tendencies,” Lomavita said.
The nonverbal communication was at another level.
“Coach Gus looked at me and he kind of said, I trust you, Caleb. Don’t mess it up,” he said.
After the steal of third base, Sielken stole second with the infield in. After a walk to Makamae DuPont, Mata‘afa stepped into the batter’s box. On the second pitch, he was hit in the knee, bringing Lomavita home with the winning run.
Saint Louis had quite the winter and spring. The basketball team went 13-0 in exhibition games. The baseball squad won the ILH and Oahu Classic. However, Lomavita stops short of any reference to Saint Louis as an unofficial state champion.
“I’ve seen some outer island kids and they’re studs. We still would’ve had a lot to prove against the Maui teams and Big Island teams,” he said.
The vigor and endurance over five days by the six teams and the tourney’s volunteers was memorable. It gave seniors like Lomavita a chance to play for his mother and father in person.
“This whole tournament was great and I’m so glad the parents got to join us one last time. I could see my parents in the stands and they enjoyed every second of it. That’s what gave us the drive to come back from a 4-0 deficit,” he said.
Lomavita will train and prepare for the MLB Draft (July 11). He expects Arquette to take a key role on the mound next season. Lomavita was the Crusaders’ top arm as a senior when he wasn’t catching, playing a corner position, or chasing fly balls in the outfield.
“Aiva’s going to need to pitch some innings. We have Jacob Spencer, Nu‘u (Contrades) and Aiva. I hope he grows into his body. If he fills out, he’s going to be a beast,” Lomavita said of Arquette, who is also a basketball standout.
He and his teammates will have a special souvenir to keep.
“After five years, I got to keep one Saint Louis uniform,” said Lomavita, who signed with Cal.
“Coach Gus got us jerseys for Legion season, so he found it and brought it and said after the tourney we could keep it,” senior third baseman Hunter Hirayama said. “It’s the first Saint Louis jersey I got to keep. Nobody knew about it. It was a surprise. Coach Gus said, ‘So let’s go out there and win.’”
Gusman hasn’t hinted whether he is considering retirement from coaching. He already retired from his side gig as an NCAA football referee a few months ago.
“There’s so many rumors, but he’s great for Saint Louis baseball because he knows how to handle us Saint Louis rascals. He knows how to teach discipline,” Lomavita said. “He knows how to mold us into men.”
Congratulations to both Mid Pac and St. Louis, that was two of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever been too. In thee end, both clubs showed why they played the game. Hard work, Grit, and respect. Farewell to the seniors, but I think the ILH is in good hands with all the talent coming back next year.
Impressed with the maturity and respect Aiva and Caleb always give their opponents during interviews. Rarely see it from high school players as good as these 2 are. They’ve obviously been raised tremendously by their parents. Hate to say it but there’s coaches that could take advice from these players. One softball coach who always finds excuses when his team loses. Never giving credit to his opponent. Good job Coach’ Gus and the rest of the Crusaders
Do tell about that softball coach. Have to be specific.