More than a year later, baseball in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu is returning.
The private-school league will open a shorter season than usual with four games on Tuesday, including a double-header at Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. The much-needed permits to conduct games at state and city and county venues are in hand, which means the ILH can play at key sites: CORP, Ala Wai Community Park and Goeas Field.
At CORP, Pac-Five and Damien play in a 3:30 p.m. game, followed by Punahou and Kamehameha at 6:30 p.m. ‘Iolani visits Mid-Pacific at 3:30 p.m. and Saint Louis battles Maryknoll at Ala Wai, also at 3:30 p.m.
“We’ve got baseball! We have actually been practicing since Mar. 1, so we are ready to go,” Kamehameha Coach Daryl Kitagawa said. “How good will we be, I don’t know. We’re prepared, I think. Hopefully, the kids come out and have a good night. Have fun.”
When the 2020 spring sports season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ILH baseball teams were roughly one week into the regular season. The days leading to the eventual shutdown had a surreal vibe. Teams shook hands after games, smiling through sadness. They knew it was a matter of time.
This time around, preseason has been shorter for many teams, games and scrimmages have been less frequent. However, teams were allowed to work out three times per week, two hours per session, during the winter months.
“The ILH changed the ‘white period.’ For the most part, we did practice three times a week,” Saint Louis Coach George Gusman said. “Not the grind of every day. It was nice. When you have a time window, you tend to be more efficient.”
The league schedule is half of what it normally is: one round-robin instead of two, and a single-game elimination playoff tourney rather than double elimination.
No matter. With a new mayor who successfully supported a modification of Tier 3 standards, the rise of new COVID cases has not altered the ILH’s plans for spring sports. Adjusting to a protocol-heavy environment isn’t exactly instantaneous for all involved.
“It’s just getting back up to speed,” said Mid-Pacific Coach Dunn Muramaru, who has the only available on-campus field for game play in the league. “The COVID measures, it’s harder to get the kids together. They’re separated (distanced) all the time. Had to practice not coming together.”
For programs like Mid-Pacific, the pandemic meant that there was no offseason practice and training time together. The Owls’ weight room went silent.
“I think I have about 20 returnees, but we didn’t get to practice (in the offseason) with them, so they’re still kind of brand-new guys. Normally, we play our (ILH) season, raise our level, play in the fall, raise our level, but now we’re back to where we would be in the summer,” Muramaru said. “That’s the hardest part.”
Maryknoll is among the many ILH teams reliant on off-campus fields.
‘Not having a summer or fall league has been challenging, so once we got the green light, reestablishing baseball back into the student-athletes’ daily routine was great to see again,” Spartans Coach Alaka‘i Aglipay said. “We’re excited to have baseball back.”
Punahou was the 2019 state champion. In ’21, remnants from that memorable season remain.
“The 2020 and ’21 senior classes have had to learn a valuable life lesson. You can’t always get what you want. The ’21 seniors have matured exponentially due to this pandemic,” Buffanblu Coach Keenan Sue said. “They have made some concessions compared with a normal year, but also realize that compared to many others, they still have so much to be grateful for. We couldn’t be prouder of them men they’ve become.”
‘Iolani’s pristine field was a casualty of the pandemic. Now covered in part by concrete, a giant tent and dozens of tables and chairs, students now use the field as an outdoor cafeteria. The Raiders have been resourceful, using the adjacent softball field, though even that facility was off-limits for much of the winter and spring because it belongs to the City & County.
“We don’t have enough room to do a whole infield (workout) so we use what we got. A lot of short work, a lot of drills,” Raiders Coach Kurt Miyahira said. “It’s been fun. In life, everything doesn’t go your way. It’s been a great learning experience for our kids.”
Pac-Five, coached by Paul Ah Yat, will have its first official, on-field practice today (Monday) at Manoa Valley District Park. They will also utilize the softball field at Ala Wai Community Park. The Wolfpack have 21 players, more than half being underclassmen.
“We’ve been jumping on whatever park we can get on on the side,” Ah Yat said. “Whatever you can get. I’ve got to give props to City & County. They’ve really stepped up and tried to accommodate everybody. We’re just fortunate to have a field for three days of the week. We play (games on) the other two.”
Gusman, the longtime, now retired college football referee and still-active baseball coach, peers into the ILH gauntlet. Saint Louis played 13 scrimmages, including four at Mid-Pacific.
“Kamehameha’s offense is off the charts and then they’ve got tons of pitching. They would’ve benefited the most if we played three times a week. You can’t count Mid-Pacific out. They score runs. Can’t strike them out, they put the ball in play and always have really good players,” Gusman said. “‘Iolani’s top of the lineup, they have four, five Division I (college) guys. Those are the top three teams, and then it’s kind of the rest of us.”
The Oahu Interscholastic Association baseball schedule is tentatively set to begin on Monday.
Pac-Five vs. Damien, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
‘Iolani at Mid-Pacific, 3:30 p.m.
Saint Louis vs. Maryknoll, Ala Wai, 3:30 p.m.
Punahou vs. Kamehameha, CORP, 6:30 p.m.
‘Iolani vs. Pac-Five, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
Damien vs. Saint Louis, Ala Wai, 11 a.m.
Maryknoll vs. Punahou, Hans L’Orange, 3:30 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Mid-Pacific, Hans L’Orange, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Apr. 20
Saint Louis at Mid-Pacific, 3:30 p.m.
Pac-Five vs. Kamehameha, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
Damien vs. Maryknoll, Goeas Field, 3:30 p.m.
‘Iolani vs. Punahou, Ala Wai, 3:30 p.m.
Friday, Apr. 23
Damien vs. ‘Iolani, Ala Wai, 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Apr. 24
Mid-Pacific vs. Punahou, Ala Wai, 1 p.m.
Maryknoll vs. Pac-Five, Hans L’Orange, 3:30 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Saint Louis, Hans L’Orange, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Apr. 27
Saint Louis vs. Pac-Five, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
‘Iolani vs. Kamehameha, Ala Wai, 330 p.m.
Mid-Pacific vs. Maryknoll, Goeas Field, 3:30 p.m.
Punahou vs. Damien, CORP, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 1
Damien at Mid-Pacific, 9 a.m.
Saint Louis vs. ‘Iolani, Hans L’Orange, 9 a.m.
Pac-Five vs. Punahou, Hans L’Orange, 1 p.m.
Maryknoll vs. Kamehameha, Hans L’Orange, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 4
‘Iolani vs. Maryknoll, Goeas Field, 3:30 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Damien, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
Mid-Pacific vs. Pac-Five, CORP, 3:30 p.m.
Punahou vs. Saint Louis, Ala Wai, 3:30 p.m.
Single-elimination playoff TBD