At one point during 2020, George Gusman was prepared to surrender.
The longtime Saint Louis baseball coach was ready to give up his final season as a top-level college football referee. It looked for a time like college football would move its fall season to the spring of ’21. It didn’t happen, and Gusman got to work several games in his final swing on the gridiron.
That was good news for Saint Louis, which is in full throttle with spring sports, including baseball. The Crusaders played a whopping 13 scrimmages despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have school buses. We went to Mid-Pacific, played them four times,” Gusman said of the lone ILH baseball program with an on-campus, game-ready field. “We did all of the protocols.”
Saint Louis opens its regular season against Maryknoll on Tuesday afternoon at Ala Wai Community Park. Game time is 3:30. No spectators are allowed.
There were also scrimmages with Kamehameha and Damien at Keehi Lagoon. A scrimmage with 808 Baseball. Maryknoll and ‘Iolani met Saint Louis at Goeas Field for scrimmages. Finding umpires for scrimmages, that’s always a challenge.
“The first couple of scrimmages, we had somebody behind, usually one of our pitchers. It was good for them to be back there and see things from a different perspective,” Gusman said.
The ILH’s modification of the “white period” allowed teams to work out three times per week at a maximum of two hours per session during the winter.
“It’s not the grind of every day. It was nice,” Gusman said. “When you have a time window, you tend to be more efficient. What was good for us was that whatever defense and offensive plays that we have, with a longer period to put these things in, go over it and over it, something that took us 20 minutes to go through took us just seven minutes now. Everybody knows all the plays. They know what to do. A nice, slow run-up. From that point of reference, it’s been really good.”
Caleb Lomavita is good, too. The Cal signee has been Mr. Versatile through his Crusader career. He will pitch this spring, but could also show up at catcher, center field and first base. He was a catcher as a freshman, then moved to first base and pitched as a sophomore. In his junior year, Lomavita was set to pitch and play center field, plugging the holes in Saint Louis’ lineup with his glove, arm, bat and speed. This year, the plan is to have him play center field, pitch and catch – something Gusman was not willing to do when Lomavita was a junior.
“He’s going to Cal Berkeley to catch, so we’re going to use him there. With his work ethic, he can do it. Of all the players I’ve had, he can do it. We’ll still space him enough and give him rest,” Gusman said. “He’s the kind of guy who goes to the gym to work out or goes running on his own during his free time.”
It will be a short season with seven games instead of 14, and then a single-elimination playoff tourney instead of double-elimination. Half as much time to enjoy his four-year starter.
“These kind of players don’t come along often. He is a very special young man, comes from a special family. Work ethic, smart, abilities, great student in the classroom, senior class president. Teammate. Versatility and overall talent is pretty much off the charts,” Gusman said.
P/C/CF Caleb Lomavita, Sr. (signed with Cal)
3B Hunter Hirayama, Sr.
SS Aiva Arquette (commit to Cal Poly)
2B Nuu Contrades (Cal Northridge)
1B/P Xander Sielken
C Evan Hu
OF Jaden Pieper (Pacific Lutheran)
OF Tama Mata‘afa-Aferos
P Reo Goya
P Kahiau Schenk, Jr.
P Ray Seabury, Jr.
P/3B Ryson Waalani
1B/OF Makamae DuPont
OF Cody Antone, Jr.
“Hunter is our leadoff batter. He can also play shortstop,” Gusman noted. “Tama decided as a senior that he was going to play baseball instead of football. He’s improved a lot.”
Arquette is a rare standout in basketball and baseball. The 6-foot-4 junior helped Saint Louis go 13-0 in exhibition games over the winter with a high-flying attack from the wing to go with an accurate 3-point shot. His ticket to the echelons is likely baseball.
Arquette teams up with second baseman Nuu Contrades, a commit to Cal Northridge.
Goya is from East Asia.
“We have a kid from Okinawa. He’s not a high velocity guy, but he’s around the plate,” Gusman said. “We have a number of pitchers who are injured. A senior we were hoping to count on is Jet Tolentino. He just threw his first bullpen on Saturday. It’s tough to return.”
Schenk strained his elbow slightly, Gusman said.
“We’re being very, very cautious with him,” he said.
Vaalani also has a sore arm.
“That’s what happens when you have position players that pitch. We’re trying to space it out, but it’s so tough,” Gusman said. “We’re hoping in a week or two, he’s back on the mound.”
Silken will possibly play third base if Hirayama pitches and Vaalani moves, Gusman added.
Perhaps the comeback story of this spring’s team is Makamae DuPont. He is returning from an ACL injury and decided to play baseball instead of football.
“We thought there’s no way we have a chance to get him to play baseball,” Gusman said. “He would’ve been in the rotation at linebacker. He’s a catcher by trade. He’s going from catcher to first base and outfield. It’s pretty amazing how quickly and how well he’s grasped playing those two positions. He’s strong, swings the bat and had a really good summer.”
DuPont had a solid American Legion season last July. He also played in the Hawaii Sandlot Classic, which was organized by his father, Ikaika.
“For a kid who was out from athletics for nearly a year, he played really well in July and carried it over,” Gusman said.
Antone is also emerging.
“He made tremendous strides in a number of areas. He’s pushing for a starting spot,” Gusman noted.
The short 2021 season and the absence of a full campaign in ’20 is creating unique options for coaches.
“It should be interesting. We’re likely to give some of the seniors the nod, but at some point, if they can’t perform, we have some of the younger guys ready to go,” Gusman said. “We’re carrying 22 (players) and only cut one. It’s the times when affording a private education is a little tougher.”
Gusman is enjoying this particular collection of Crusaders.
“This group of guys I have is very close, so those things help,” he said. “You don’t get that every time. This group is really close, so it’s a fun group.”