HAWAII GROWN: Saint Louis alum Pono Anderson works his way to D-I

Texas-Arlington right-hander Pono Anderson is an "innings-eater" according to his head coach. Photo courtesy UTA athletics.

Two schools in two separate mainland states can be a lot for someone who wasn’t supposed to leave home in the first place, but Pono Anderson has taken every new opportunity in stride.

Anderson signed with Hawaii during his senior year at Saint Louis but ended up at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix instead. Now as a senior at Texas-Arlington, Anderson was the subject of Wednesday’s Hawaii Grown feature in the Star-Advertiser, which can be read here.

“When I first got to junior college I used to wonder what would’ve happened if I went to UH,” he said. “Nowadays, everything’s playing out well and it’s going good so I don’t think about that at all.”

South Mountain gave Anderson a roster spot on short notice after he wasn’t given approval by the NCAA Clearninghouse to compete for the Rainbow Warriors. NJCAA schools, unlike the NCAA, don’t place practice limitations on its teams. When asked to describe the junior college lifestyle, Anderson called it a “grind.”

“It’s good, and definitely a different outlook once you’ve been there,” he said. “Ask anyone that’s ever been there. I played against (‘Iolani alum) Pikai Winchester for two years during my junior college career and he’d tell you the same thing. It’s an absolute grind and it’s a different atmosphere, too.”

After two years in junior college, Anderson chose UTA over offers from New Mexico State, Arizona, Grand Canyon and Cal State Bakersfield. In his first year with the Mavericks, he went 0-4 with a 4.42 ERA in 14 starts.

This year, he’s already gone 5-3 in his nine starts but his ERA spiked to 6.14 when he allowed five runs in 2/3 innings to Arkansas-Little Rock last weekend. But those numbers are misleading to UTA head coach Darin Thomas, who has trusted Anderson to be near or at the top of the pitching rotation in each of his two seasons.

“He’s been an innings-eater for us for two years. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’ll still give you six or seven innings,” Thomas said. “He’s always went out there and given us everything he’s got.”

The Mavericks are currently 20-13 and tied at the top of the Sun Belt conference at 8-4. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a regional bid is nationally ranked Coastal Carolina — the 2016 College World Series champions, who are also 8-4 in Sun Belt play. That series won’t come until May 10-12, while the Sun Belt conference tournament runs from May 21-26.

Between now and the end of his college baseball career, Anderson’s keeping his goals on the mound simple. After the season, he expects to graduate with degrees in marketing and management. After his playing days are over, his ultimate goal is to coach at the college or pro level.

“Just give my team the best opportunity possible to win every time I’m out there,” he said. “Quality starts is a big goal for me and getting as much wins for the team under my belt to keep us in there and try to make it to regionals and possibly super regionals. That would be awesome. And of course, the big goal is the World Series. But we’re just gonna take it one game at a time and hopefully it goes our way.”

High school baseball fans in Hawaii will remember Anderson’s performance in the 2014 HHSAA championships, when he tossed 11 scoreless innings over three games to help the Crusaders win their first baseball state title since 1974.

Anderson still keeps track of Saint Louis’ baseball and football teams, and remains in close touch with former teammates Rayson Romero, Jordan Mopas and Jordan Yamamoto, among others. Homesick as he may have been at times, he’s thankful for the journey.

“I think it’s prepared me a lot because I’ve been in two different states in the past four years playing ball. Just a different outlook for everything,” he said. “I think it’s prepared me for my future in many ways, not just work and baseball. Given that opportunity, I think you have to take full advantage of it because being from Hawaii, it’s a little different.

“There’s a smaller environment when you’re home but being out here is like being a small fish in a big pond. But when the opportunity comes, you gotta take full advantage. My parents always told me just to stick it out and it’ll work out. I 100 percent agree with that because I’ve changed a lot over these last few years and grown up being on the mainland for four years of college. It’s amazing, just to be growing and becoming a better person and learning different things. It’s been great. I do miss home a lot, though. I can’t deny that.”


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