Micah Banton is a coach and counselor.
Sometimes, many times, the two roles intertwine. In the midst of a global pandemic, Kapolei’s second-year head baseball coach has spent much of the past year merging work and passion.
“It’s about getting exposure. That’s why I was hell bent on getting these kids to college,” Banton said on Thursday before the Hurricanes hit the practice field. “I was calling coaches, making videos. I was on a mission to make that happen.”
Banton is a 1995 graduate of ‘Iolani, where he made a lot of good plays on the gridiron and the diamond.
“That was a simple choice for me. Baseball, full scholarship to HPU. Not getting chased by dudes 300 pounds with the same speed as me,” he recalled. “I remember being recruited, played at HPU and transferred to Washington State for two years. It’s not happening enough for the OIA kids. It’s not anybody’s fault, but it can’t be status quo.”
One thing that won’t change is the OIA baseball schedule, which will be seven games without playoffs, let alone a state tournament. Even before the pandemic, the number of games in a normal season paled in comparison to states like California.
“The kids should play three rounds. If you only play 12 games a year, I have a buddy who coaches Fountain Valley. They play 30-something games in the regular season. Before the playoffs,” Banton said. “Hawaii, the only advantage is we can play all year. The most competitive games are those regular-season games. Twelve games over the course of an entire year, and California kids have three times more. Who’s going to be more prepared in college?”
And yet, Banton loves the challenge. Seven of the Hurricanes are heading out to play college baseball after graduation. In all, 12 of the 22 Hurricanes on the roster are seniors.
“This is our year,” Banton said. “We’ve got to win it all.”
SS Jeremiah Lono, Sr.
2B Cade Fujii, Sr.
CF Jake Petrus, Sr.
OF Aaron Yeung, Sr.
P Leo Ha‘o, Sr.
P Jahshua Yacapin, Sr.
Lono bats third and is going to Tacoma Community College (Wash.).
“He has a full ride,” Banton noted.
Fujii and Yeung are heading to Ottawa University (Surprise, Ariz.) on partial scholarships. Petrus will be on a partial scholarship at Arizona Christian University (Glendale). Ha‘o is considering HPU or Tacoma CC. Yacapin is still deciding.
“It’s between George Fox (University) or Cameron (University in Lawton, Okl.). He and Leo are top notch, kind of interchangeable. Josh is more of a bulldog, mid to high 80s. Leo is more of a strike thrower. He pounds the zone,” Banton said.
Below the radar: right fielder Deyven “Bula” White. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound two-sport athlete — he played tight end on the football team — is pursuing baseball at the next level.
“He has a 3.75 (grade-point average). He’s our cleanup hitter, got hips and good hands, but nobody is talking to him. Because he’s in the OIA and doesn’t have the limelight, he hardly has any interest,” Banton said. “He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I called Dallas (Correa) at HPU, ‘You got to look at this kid.’ He wants to play baseball.”
Another football player, quarterback Noa Bailey, wants to play both sports in college. Bailey is Kapolei’s designated hitter.
“He’s done a couple of mainland trips, but more for football,” Banton said.
3B/C Bryson Hilacion, Jr.
“He’ll be starting at third base,” Banton said. “We also have Matt Walsh. When Jahshua pitches, he’ll play first base.”
Even without an official OIA championship, Banton has high hopes for the brief season ahead. The opening game is on Friday, Apr. 24, against Aiea at Hans L’Orange Field.
“We have the opening night game on television,” he said. “That’s the one regular-season game we played last year and lost in the 11th inning. It was an epic battle. We get to hopefully pay them back for last year’s loss.”
Preparation for all OIA teams has varied in terms of time because of differing on-campus, face-to-face status. Kapolei has two scrimmages scheduled, and will have two more during the regular season — a fairly common theme among public- and private-school teams. The ‘Canes will play Waialua on Saturday, and Pac-Five on Monday in their preseason scrimmages.
Later, they will scrimmage with Waipahu (Apr. 29) and Kalani (May 3).