The Pacific West Conference coaches saw something in the preseason in UH-Hilo closer John Kea, and it turned out Tuesday they made the right call.
It’s Kea, however, who ultimately called his shot.
The redshirt sophomore demurred in early February when the topic of his being an all-PacWest preseason selection came up, saying, “It doesn’t stop there.”
Kea was much more comfortable talking about the team, and he made his pitch, saying the Vulcans were capable of breaking .500.
UHH (26-19) would go on to put a nagging and NCAA record-breaking losing streak behind it, achieving its first winning season since 1992 and securing its best PacWest finish.
More good news came Tuesday when Kea was one of three Vulcans’ all-conference selections, and the only first-teamer.
The 2019 season must have felt just old like times for Casey Yamauchi, who walked across the street from Waiakea and simply went from one winning clubhouse to the other. Yamauchi was named to the second team as a utility after hitting a team-high .320, while ace right-hander Dylan Spain made the third team after missing three starts.
Usually, three all-PacWest selections would be cause for celebration at UHH — only Phillip Steering, a second-teamer, made it 2017 and ‘18 — but one has to wonder if the Vulcans didn’t get snubbed considering they finished second in the conference.
PacWest champion Azusa Pacific claimed four of the six individual honors, including player of the year (Cole Kleszcz) and coach of the year (Paul Svagdis).
Svagdis guided the Cougars to a threepeat, as was expected according to preseason selections.
The Vulcans and coach Kallen Miyataki were picked to finish seventh.
Kea, a Kapolei, Oahu, native and Saint Louis alum led the PacWest in saves with 10, breaking his own UHH single-season record of nine. In 19 appearances out of the bullpen, he fanned 37 batters in 34 2/3 innings of work, finishing with a team-best 3.37 ERA.
Yamauchi played in the outfield, shortstop and second base, and finished with 20 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
In 163 at-bats, Yamauchi struck out just eight times and was second on the team with 11 stolen bases.
Like Kea, Spain was a preseason all-league selection.
He compiled a 5-1 record with a 3.80 ERA and three complete games, including a late-season three-hit shutout on the road against a regional-bound Point Loma team that had not been shut out all season.