MPI’s 14th ILH title anything but easy

Mid-Pacific had a somewhat subdued celebration as it ran on the field following a 12-1 win over 'Iolani to win the ILH baseball championship on Friday. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

Mid-Pacific made its 14th ILH baseball championship under longtime head coach Dunn Muramaru look easy on Friday, scoring 10 runs in the first inning on the way to a 12-1 rout of ‘Iolani in five innings at Hans L’Orange Park.

“Easy” is probably the last word to describe what the year has been like for the Owls, who were coming off a rare losing season that snapped a streak of five consecutive league titles from 2012 to ’16.

The offseason started when outfielder Micah Pi was diagnosed with lymphoma in the summer after a tumor the size of a softball was discovered in his torso.

Pi underwent chemotherapy and finished his treatment in December — the same month that Muramaru’s father, George, died at age 95.

They’ve been through a lot together off the field, so when it came to celebrate on it on Friday, it was a subdued gathering on the infield. Players lightly jogged out of the dugout to meet their teammates on the field. There weren’t hats or gloves flying in the air or euphoric screams being let out.

Mid-Pacific’s Breyndon Nakamura scored one of the Owls’ 10 first-inning runs against ‘Iolani on Friday. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

It seemed more like a giant sense of relief.

“It’s been a tough season and it’s never easy. These guys have really worked hard,” Muramaru said. “Just the fact the way they played this whole season is a feather in their cap.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and this is one of the more special wins because they’re kids. When they buy in and they do stuff that we want them to do and then they understand and they acknowledge stuff, that’s what is really good for me. That’s what keeps me coaching. We had a tough time last year.”

The Owls took the suspense out of the final with a 10-run first inning sending 15 batters to the plate. Kyle Layugan, who finished with three RBIs, and Cameron Ching both had two run-scoring hits in the same frame.

The runs were nice, but not necessarily needed for MPI starter Shion Matsushita, who hadn’t given up a run in his first 17 innings against ‘Iolani this season.

The sidearm thrower allowed four hits in six shutout innings of a 1-0 win against ‘Iolani in the first meeting of the season and hurled a six-hit shutout the second time he faced the Raiders.

Matsushita gave up a leadoff walk to start the second after the long wait in the dugout after MPI’s first-inning explosion at the plate. His no-hitter was broken up by Cade Yonamine’s leadoff double in the top of the fifth and Jacob Hinderleider scored Yonamine on a one-out infield single.

“Having a 10-run lead in the first inning is kind of like you’re just throwing a bullpen getting ready,” Matsushita said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and let me defense do the work as always.”

Ching finished with three hits and shortstop Wyatt Young tripled, reached base three times and scored twice for MPI.

Mid-Pacific wasn’t the only school to have a turnaround season on the diamond this year.

‘Iolani, which won one fewer regular season game this year than it had in the previous three seasons combined, finished second in both the regular season and the tournament.

Next week will be the Raiders’ first appearance in the state tournament since 2013.

“They had back-to-back five-win seasons and to come back and play for the ILH title I think is big,” ‘Iolani coach Kurt Miyahira said. “They deal with adversity and hear a lot of outside noise, but they play for each other and that’s what we try to get out of them. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The Raiders have played the entire season without their top two catchers. Junior Blake Hiraki, who started the majority of his sophomore season, had Tommy John surgery in the offseason, and senior Keene Tanaka broke his arm in the Raiders’ final preseason game — against Mid-Pacific in the final of the Richard Kitamura Baseball Tournament.

Tanaka was recently cleared to throw by doctors and pitched the final inning for ‘Iolani in his first appearance of the season, giving up just one hit and no runs.

Tanaka still can’t catch or swing a bat and Hiraki isn’t ready to throw yet after surgery, but both still manage to make their mark on the team.

“They work every day,” Miyahira said. “Whether it’s Keene calling the pitches. He stays engaged. Blake catches bullpens every day, blocking balls every day, receiving every day. It’s workers like that that inspire each other and make this team better and I’m proud of them for that.”


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