BIIF baseball: Vikings have hitting, pitching and tradition but fielding needs work

  • Hilo senior pitcher Ryan Ragual

Hilo High’s players probably knew what was in store for them before they got to practice. Fielding drills, and a lot them.

Coach Tony De Sa intently watched his team work on infield grounders Tuesday, and even when he stepped away for an interview, he kept one eye on the field.

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“Ughhh,” an exasperated De Sa said after a misplay. “Ahhh.”

That’s what 18 errors during a four-game preseason stretch on Oahu will do to a coach, though he’s used to early rough stretches entering his eighth season as skipper.

“Seems to be the way with Hilo High. All the time,” he said. “That’s why we do this all day long.

“This year, though, maybe a little bit more.”

The errors were fresh on De Sa’s mind, but mentioning fielding first also serves to get the bad news out of the way.

Despite it being an even year — when the Vikings are biennially the BIIF Division I runner-up — there’s mostly good news. Start with pitching, and a lot of it.

A deep staff featuring Ryan Ragual, Donald Saltiban, Ocean Gabonia and Nainoa Kane-Yates, all right-handers, flashed its potential last weekend against the likes of Campbell, Mililani, Saint Louis and Punahou.

“Starting pitchers will keep us in the game, even against the best in the state,” De Sa said.

The defending BIIF champs will use more of an ace-by-committee approach now that Joey Jarneski, a proven big-game pitcher, is in the minor leagues.

Ragual and Saltiban, both seniors, are the most accomplished of the group, but “Ocean has come on strong and Nainoa looked real good against Saint Louis,” De Sa said. “Good breaking ball.

“I think they are all quality starters. More quality than we’ve had.”

A pair of senior pillars graduated in catcher Chayce Costa-Ishii and first baseman Nick Antony, but at least two more are on hand this season in center fielder Micah Bello and Ragual, a corner infielder.

“Micah has elevated his game,” De Sa said. “Ryan is clutch. He’s who we want at the plate.”

Bello, armed with pro potential and with a Division I scholarship waiting for him at Saint Mary’s, will bat leadoff, while Ragual bats cleanup and likely will play first base in his fourth season as a Vikings contributor.

“A little bit on the younger side,” Ragual said in comparing this squad with some of its predecessors. “We just need to get more practice in to get used to each other more.

“We didn’t play as a team (on Oahu), so we have to become more close. We’ve come back ready to fix what’s messed up.”

Further seasoning will come at Hilo’s 25th Annual Stanley Costales Invitational Baseball Tournament, which runs Thursday-Saturday at Wong Stadium.

The Vikings have never won the preseason tournament on De Sa’s watch, with Waiakea enjoying more success of late.

It’s 2018, so if the trend continues the Warriors also will rule the BIIF. Since Waiakea won the state crown in 2012, the rivals have taken turns winning the BIIF title, with Vikings owning odd-numbered years.

“I actually do pay a little attention to that,” Ragual said. “It’s pretty weird.

“We want to win BIIF this year because there is only one seed, and if you don’t win BIIF, you have to do a play-in game. Our goal is to get that seed and win BIIF.”

The biggest question on the infield is who will play third base. Maui Ahuna, a longtime second baseman, moves over to play shortstop, while Puukani De Sa, often used at designated hitter last season, is slated to play second and bat third.

The outfield is set with senior Logan Respicio, who is comfortable batting fifth and versatile enough to hit second, and Saltiban flanking Bello.

Costa-Ishii’s presence will be missed at catcher, and a youth movement is afoot with sophomores Paul Anthony and Ryan Cabreira in the mix.

Even year or odd year, Tony De Sa pointed out that last year showed only one thing counts. Waiakea was better during the regular season only to get swept by Hilo at BIIFs. Then the Warriors regained their momentum on Oahu, reaching the state title game, losing to Maui.

“I don’t think any of it matters, when it gets to those final games, the hot team wins,” De Sa said. “That’s what happened at states last year with Maui High.”

Costales tourney

Wong Stadium

Thursday

Game 1: Kona vs. Kamehameha, 2 p.m.

G2: Baldwin vs. Waiakea, 4:30 p.m.

G3: KS-Maui vs. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.

Friday

G4: Kealakehe vs. HPA, 9 a.m.

G5: Loser 4 vs. L2, 11:30 a.m.

G6: L3 vs. L1, 2 p.m.

G7: W1 vs. W2, 4:30 p.m.

G8: W3 vs. W4, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Consolation: L6 vs. L5, 8 a.m.

Fifth: W6 vs. W5, 10:30 a.m.

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Third: L7 vs. L8, 1 p.m.

Championship: W7 vs. W8, 3:30 p.m.

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