Months on the road were a godsend for JT Navyac.
The Saint Louis shortstop/pitcher didn’t come home for the entire stretch, playing in California. He also spent the offseason grinding away in the weight room. He returned to the Crusaders 15 pounds heavier, now playing at 175 pounds.
He also added some pop to his fastball. The right-hander whiffed eight and walked none as No. 4 Saint Louis defeated No. 1 Punahou 1-0 on Tuesday in the ILH season opener for both teams at Central Oahu Regional Park.
Navyac, the starting shortstop, emerged as the No. 1 pitcher after Crusaders coach George Gusman had an open competition in preseason. His fastball was clocked at 88 mph against the Buffanblu, and his final pitch was 86 mph. In between, he threw a masterful slurve, and didn’t walk a single batter.
“JT shook some pitches off, which is fine. Main thing is he hits his spot,” pitching coach Dudie Dureg said. “JT worked really hard. They all came back stronger.”
His counterpart, Tyler Shimabukuro, was also effective. The Punahou right-hander allowed just one unearned run in the second inning and just three hits in five innings. He walked one batter and did not strike anyone out.
“Coming into the game, we prepared for Shimabukuro’s curve ball because that’s his go-to pitch,” said Navyac, who batted fifth. “We had the machine on the curve ball the whole week. The fastball was there. We just kept popping it up. We were expecting a good pitchers’ game.”
“I was looking serious out there but I was having the time of my life.” — Saint Louis P JT Navyac after a four-hit shutout (8 K’s, 0 BB) of No. 1 Punahou. C Evan Hu drove in the only run in No. 4 @StLouisHawaii’s 1-0 win. @HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/LNLM865MgA
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) March 11, 2020
(2) “I was looking serious out there but I was having the time of my life.” — Saint Louis P JT Navyac after a four-hit shutout (8 K’s, 0 BB) of No. 1 Punahou. C Evan Hu drove in the only run in No. 4 @StLouisHawaii’s 1-0 win. @HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/e1kLS9TBHT
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) March 11, 2020
Saint Louis had planned to replace Navyac after 80 pitches. He was just too efficient to remove, and finished at 101 pitches.
“He was still throwing strikes. He was pretty consistent. He had good command,” Gusman said. “You know, they’re so dangerous. It doesn’t take much with that lineup and all those returnees. We’re very fortunate. The ball didn’t bounce for them, so we’re very lucky.”
The Crusaders also played flawless defense. Navyac, a Cal State Fullerton commit, adds depth when he is back at shortstop on his non-pitching days. Power-hitting Caleb Lomavita went 1-for-3 as the starter in right field. Gusman is pleased with the work the team has put in.
“These guys have been in the weight room since August,” Gusman said. “JT’s one of the guys who has committed himself to getting strong. It’s part of maturity. It’s fantastic stuff for us. He sets a great example for the rest of the guys.”
Lomavita is in his third year as a starter, and is only a junior. He is committed to Cal.
“Those guys are very unselfish. Caleb’s at the top of the list of being an unselfish player. As a freshman, he caught for us because that’s where the need was. Last year, we needed a first baseman. He played there. The need this year is in the outfield. He still works out at catcher in case something happens to Evan (Hu), Caleb’s ready to go,” Gusman said.
The ILH season will again be a double round-robin for the seven Division I teams, followed by a double-elimination playoff tournament. Gusman and his staff have weathered the long grind before.
“They’re great kids and that’s the most important thing. They’re not afraid to work and they’re coachable. That’s all you can ask of those guys,” Gusman said. “The rope only goes so far and they know how far they can go, but you’ve got to give them some freedom and have some fun along the way. When it’s time to get to work, it’s time to get to work. When it’s time to play, I’m at the front of the line. They know that.”
Hu came through with a run-scoring single in the second inning for the game’s only run. He stepped in when starting catcher Degan Davis injured his foot two weeks ago.
“Broke two bones in his foot. Very unfortunate. Off a batted ball. He’s worked very hard, as well,” Gusman said. “He’s a senior. Originally, it was two weeks, but those bones in the foot are tough to heal. We’re pleased with Evan and we still got Caleb to catch. If we need to, we have a guy on the junior varsity we don’t want to bring up yet.”
Saint Louis has a few days off before meeting Maryknoll on Friday. Maryknoll beat No. 10 ‘Iolani 8-5 on Tuesday.
“It’s a long way to go,” Gusman said. “Tomorrow, they need to make sure that they come to practice ready to go because I’ll be ready to go.”