Micah Jio is one part of the formula that led the Maui Sabers — the second-place-in-the-Maui-Interscholastic-League Maui Sabers — to the 2017 state baseball championship.
Jio’s versatile skills were a huge asset in that equation, and his clutch play at the state tourney opened the eyes of voters on the Star-Advertiser All-State panel, who voted him position player of the year. The senior was a three-year standout at shortstop, but made the move to center field at the request of coach Chase Corniel, who had depth at short and, more or less, not so much experience at the outer limits.
Jio’s conversion went as smoothly as expected. His range in center was expansive, and his performance at the plate — and on the base paths — were superb. He batted .468 with a slugging percentage of .677, outstanding numbers for any position. At the state tourney, he was at his best, going 8-for-14 with six runs scored and four RBIs.
> vs. Mililani: 2-for-4, two runs, RBI
> vs. Saint Louis: 2-4, two runs
> vs. Campbell: 2-2, two RBIs, run
> vs. Waiakea: 2-4, RBI, run, triple.
“I believe he could play second base or outfield at the next level,” Corniel said of Jio, who has signed to play at Oregon Tech. “He’s more of an academic guy and a lot of JCs are interested.”
Corniel is convinced that Jio is a Division I caliber player in college, but Jio has his mind set on getting a degree first and foremost. His evolution as an outfielder might be a life-changer, though.
“We tested him out in the ‘Iolani tourney against Campbell,” Corniel said of the preseason games on Oahu. “He ran down some balls that were unbelievable. After that, we made sure played outfield as much as possible.”
The Sabers’ title run was about a lot of quality depth, players who were efficient at multiple positions. Jio pitched at times with a fastball and change-up at his disposal.
“He could pitch at the NAIA level,” Corniel said.
Mikito Barkman was a huge asset as a first baseman and pitcher. The lanky 6-foot-2 underclassman has a high ceiling with his hitting and pitching skill sets.
“He hits 83 (mph). He needs to get in the weight room,” Corniel said of Barkman, one of the Sabers’ four selections to the first team. “We lost (Pascual) to an arm injury, and we knew Mikito from JV (last year). He’s a decent hitter at the end of the lineup, a perfect fit.
“He was in the starting (pitcher) role all season. We told the staff, when your number’s called, be ready. There’s a different side of him when he’s on the mound. You could see it in his eyes. He came through even though he had some rocky starts during the season.”
Catcher Bryant Nakagawa’s return from injury was a godsend for the Sabers. It didn’t hurt that he hit .349 while providing savvy, poised leadership from behind the plate.
“I was a catcher, so I’m naturally hard on him. He overcame the injury mentally, really worked his butt off,” Corniel said. “He got back to his old level. His work ethic, without that, he’s not who he is. He’s a hustler.”
Nakagawa’s technique has been honed daily.
“His catcher release is really quick. At times, I had to tell him to slow it down ,” Corniel said.
Kao Mindoro, their smooth-fielding second baseman, was among the most consistent Sabers. He batted .421 with 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Ten of his 24 base hits were doubles.
“He was batting in the 3 slot all year. We always had to play with the lineup. He was one of our rocks, a good bunter, too, when he has to be,” Corniel said. “We really worked on our bunting this season. We didn’t realize how much it would factor in.”
Corniel’s perseverance and consistency, like his staff, paid off in the long run despite behind overshadowed by defending MIL and state champion Baldwin for the better part of two seasons. Voters rewarded Corniel with All-State Coach of the Year honors.
“I tip my hat to the boys. As long as we had some success, it was easier for them to buy in,” he said.
And, finally, parting All-State notes from our good friend and your local Mad Librarian, Jerry Campany.
>> Saint Louis had five first team selections this year, the most for a single school since Mid-Pacific had six in 2013. The Crusaders didn’t have a single first-team selection last year.
>> Maui had four players on the first team this year, before that the Sabers hadn’t put a single guy on the first team since Vance Otake in 2003.
>> Yamaguchi is the first pitcher of the year from Saint Louis since Kalei Contrades in 2011.
>> Joey Cantillo is the only player to repeat from last year. Everyone else was a first timer.
>> Nakagawa is the first first-team catcher from a neighbor island since Kolten Wong of Kamehameha-Hawaii for the Honolulu Advertiser in 2008.
>> Kailua has had the top first baseman for two years in a row. Noah Auld was the selection last year.
>> Keith Torres is the first top shortstop from saint Louis since Rayson Romero in 2014.
>> DJ Stephens is the first first team outfielder from Saint Louis since Kaeo Aliviado in 2011
>> Li‘i Pontes is the first Kamehameha pitcher to be first team since Keenan Lum in 2012
>> Saint Louis had two pitchers named to the first team, last year Baldwin placed two pitchers on the first team. Before that, the last time one school had two pitchers on the first team was Punahou in the 2004 Star-Bulletin with Jared Pate and Jeeter Ishida.
>> Campbell has had at least one first teamer for five years in a row, the longest current streak.
>> ‘Iolani didn’t have a first teamer for the first time in three years.