Just so everyone on Hilo High’s baseball team is on the same page, Maui Ahuna already has spoken about his expectations for his senior season.
“I already told this team, I don’t want to lose this year,” Ahuna said.
Not at the Stanley Costales Baseball Tournament, which starts Thursday at Wong Stadium, not during the BIIF season, when the Vikings will try and repeat, and not even at the state tournament, where Ahuna has his eyes on something special.
Hilo’s lone state championship came in 1985 on a team that included then-sophomore Baba Lancaster, who enters his second season as coach, and Walter Ahuna.
“If my dad could do it his senior year, I can,” shortstop Maui Ahuna said. “We have a good chance. Pretty much the same team and a lot of good, young players.”
Such a forecast would have seemed silly in the middle of the 2019 season as Hilo seemed to be stuck behind Waiakea. Something clicked, however, for the Vikings late in the season, and they went 4-0 in the BIIF playoffs, including a sweep of Waiakea, and reached the state semifinals before tying Baldwin in the third place game.
“We got our mindset right, we realized and knew we needed to work harder to win,” said Ahuna, who came out on top in a hotly contested vote to be honored as BIIF Division I player of the year.
It’s an even year, so theoretically this isn’t Hilo’s turn to shine. Since Waiakea won consecutive BIIF titles in 2011 and 12, the two rivals have taken turns winning titles.
“I plan on changing that,” Lancaster said. “I honestly think I have the better team, no question in my mind. We’re a lot more close-knit team than last season.”
The Viks said goodbye to ace pitcher Ocean Gabonia, but Lancaster thinks he has three who could fill that role, including 6-foot-2 senior Logan Wilson, who pitched a no-hitter against Kealakehe in the 2019 semifinals and earned the win in the clincher against the Warriors.
“He’s looking strong this year, worked real hard in the offseason,” Lancaster said. “Lost some weight.”
Junior Keldon Ogawa gave Hilo reliable innings last season, and sophomore Kaimana Kuamoo is “110% ready” after a knee injury set back his 2019 campaign, Lancaster said. The left-hander features a palm-ball that flummoxed hitters on the 2017 Hilo Little League team that reached the West Regional.
Senior Charles Barclay is among the seven to eight trustworthy pitchers Lancaster can see using this season, and one freshman to watch is Shane Sale-Silva, who helped pitch the Hilo Pony 13 All-Stars to the World Series title last summer.
Devin Saltiban is another ninth-grader, and even last season Lancaster was looking forward to the arrival of Joshua Ward, perhaps the most powerful hitter from Lancaster’s 2017 Little League state champions.
“Joshua can hit, we have to find a position for him to play,” Lancaster said. “There’s no doubt he can hit.”
Among the standouts during the recently completed junior varsity season were sophomores Tobey Jackson, who hit .500, and Xaige Lancaster (.455) and Ward (.476). Lancaster was steady at second last season while hitting .377 and has been selected for a USA national team, his father said
Senior Dayson Moses is an all-BIIF returnee who could play the outfield or first base, and senior Paul Antony could catch or play third base or first.
“Paul’s gotten better,” Baba Lancaster said. “More in shape. Last year he as injury prone with his hammy, this year he looks healthy. He came back stronger mashing the ball.”
The other options at catcher include Ward or Owyn Arashiro.
Jackson hit leadoff some in 2019 and will help patrol the outfield along with center fielder Titus Sato, and sophomore Kaynan Kaku will be used as well.
Ahuna is one of the three faces of the league this season along with fellow MLB draft prospects Kalai Rosario and Safea Mauai, both of Waiakea.
“Just one player isn’t going to do anything,” Ahuna said. “We’re going to win as a team. (Safea and Kalai) aren’t going to win, just the two of them by themselves.”
Still, the three of them will bring many professional scouts to the island over the next couple of months, starting Thursday, when Hilo plays Kealakehe at 1 p.m. and then Waiakea takes on Kamehameha at 4 p.m.
Each day at Costales will feature a matchup of East Hawaii’s Big Three because, “The scouts wanted us to set it up that way,” Lancaster said.
Waiakea and Hilo play at 7 p.m. Friday, and Hilo and Kamehameha meet at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Ahuna has a scholarship waiting for him at Kansas, and the prospect of trying to match dad in winning a state title helps him forget all about the scouts in the stands or the pressure of trying to get drafted.
“Just play ball, play a game,” he said.
Hilo vs Kealakehe, 1 p.m.
Waiakea vs. Kamehameha, 4 p.m.
Hilo vs Waialua, 7 p.m.
Waiakea vs. Waialua, 1 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Kealakehe, 4 p.m.
Waiakea vs. Hilo, 7 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Waialua, 1 p.m.
Kealakehe vs Waiakea, 4 p.m.
Hilo vs. Kamehameha, 7 p.m.