Fourteen times in Dunn Muramaru‘s time as the head coach, the Mid-Pacific baseball team has placed in the top three of the Division I state tournament.
That includes five titles and six runner-up finishes. And just as telling of the resiliency of the program is the 3-0 record in third-place state games, when, after a loss in the semifinals, the team did not fold and came back with a win.
Muramaru himself is resiliency personified. While other Interscholastic League of Honolulu programs’ coaches come and go, he remains as the leader of the Owls through thick and thin. The thin, as you know by now, is a rarity. Never does an opponent walk in to a game against Mid-Pacific and think it’s going to be easy. If anyone wants to question the word “never” in the last sentence, go ahead, but talk to anyone in Hawaii baseball circles and they’ll tell you it’s true.
That’s because the man was meant to have a baseball cap on his head and a baseball bat in his hand and to guide his players the only way he knows how. And that’s to play baseball by the basics. Repetition. Hard work. Heads up. To say he loves baseball would be an understatement, because — if you allow a bit of schmaltziness here — he IS baseball.
Just watch the stone-faced wizard hit infield before a game. He’s not smiling, but somehow you know he’s feeling the joy of that youthful game in his fingers when the bat cracks the ball and his fielders get their practice in.
There are times when Muramaru doesn’t have a lot to say, but Wednesday after a 9-6 win at ‘Iolani wasn’t one of them.
He talked about this year’s team, and that he’s still working to find the right lineup.
“It’s been in a state of flux,” Muramaru said. “What we expected to happen at the start of season is not turning out. We’re moving people around. That’s not normal. Usually we have preseason to do all of that. Today was another different lineup. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, we’ll get it right. One inning, they got that three-run homer and it started with a passed ball strike three. We never have trouble with that. Every game we’ve had trouble. That’s our third different catcher. I expected all seniors to start and right now we’ve got three or four seniors not starting.”
Starting pitcher Alex Oley, who got the win against ‘Iolani, talked about Muramaru’s search for the right combination: “The starting lineup has been changing. He’s trying to find the right pieces. Sometimes he’ll need somebody to come in and do something differently than another player. There’s different types of players that make a lineup. It’s really like a team thing. He puts the lineup together to make the best possible chance for us to win and we don’t know what goes on in his head or how he does it, but we trust him. We trust the coaching staff, so we go with it.
“He’s been coaching a long time. He’s gone through pretty much everything that can happen to you in baseball, so we just gotta trust him, which we do, and all the coaches tell us to trust him because he knows what he’s doing. All we have to do is just work how he tells us to work and we should be fine.”
Maybe finding the right lineup has something to do with locating the hardest workers who are also good enough to start. In Oley’s words when talking about playing baseball for Muramaru, “It’s not about how talented you are, it’s about how hard you work.”
Mid-Pacific (3-2) is tied in the middle of the ILH pack with Kamehameha, just a half-game behind both Saint Louis (3-1) and Punahou (3-1).
The Owls are trying to get back to the Division I state final, where they lost 3-2 in eight innings to Campbell a year ago.
Mid-Pacific’s state titles under Muramaru came in 1990, 1991, 1992, 2002 and 2013. The runner-up finishes were in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2015. In 1993, 2003 and 2010, the Owls took third at states.
Muramaru indirectly made a reference to getting back to the big game by mentioning Jacob Maekawa, the losing pitcher in the state final who earned a save in Wednesday’s win over the Raiders.
“He’s the guy that pitched the last inning in the state championship last year, so he wants to get back there,” the coach said.
And here’s Muramaru’s take on this year’s ILH: “The league always has a lot of talent. There’s no bad teams. One to nine, every team has some good players. They’re not junk. There’s no players you say they don’t belong on that team. They’re all good baseball teams. They all have at least one or two good pitchers, so when you match up against them, it’s tough. Maryknoll (winless at 0-5) has that one pitcher (Matthew Dunaway) who struck out 13 against Saint Louis and they lost 1-0 and he pitched against us and he was tough. We kind of escaped 7-3.”