Baseball: Vulcans expect Sharks to bring more bite this time around

  • UH-Hilo pitcher Kyle Alcorn pitches the ball to HPU during a game on Saturday, March 27, 2021.

UH-Hilo baseball coach Kallen Miyataki knows Hawaii Pacific will be wearing the same uniforms but won’t be the same team.

The Sharks visited last weekend and lost three of four games, but they were plagued by issues from a lack of practice: errors and free passes (walks and hit batters).

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In four games, they had four errors and 24 free passes. The Vulcans, who dealt with wet weather, weren’t much better. They had five errors and 23 free passes.

UHH (3-4, 3-1 PacWest) and HPU (1-7, 1-3) begin a four-game reunion starting at noon Saturday at the campus field.

“It should be a fun series again,” Miyataki said. “They didn’t have a lot of practice, and it showed. They had a rough time getting prepared.

“But they’ll be formidable down the road. They’ve got four kids who touch 90 mph, and one of them is a local kid.”

HPU’s four hard-throwing bullpen arms are senior Grant Dragmire and freshmen Daniel Cortez, Nico Gomez and Makani Quia, from Oahu’s Waipahu High.

Freshman starter Gavin Pringle and sophomore Cole Mayeshiro don’t throw as hard but know how to change speeds and keep the ball down.

That’s five pitchers UHH will see a lot for this season and the next three or four years. Dragmire and third baseman Joseph Gallagher, who batted 2 for 15 with a homer, are eligible to retain their class standings next year under the NCAA’s coronavirus status.

“Dragmire is a tough guy, and Pringle came right at us,” Miyataki said. “Mayeshiro changes speeds, and we have a hard time with pitchers who throw in the mid-80s and change speeds. Hopefully, we’ll make an adjustment this week.”

What the Vulcans saw last week was HPU’s scouting report, especially how the defense was aligned.

For example, when Kobie Russell was at the plate, the Sharks went into an extreme pull-shift alignment.

In one game, Russell, a left-handed batter, hit an ordinary flyball to left field. If the defense is aligned normally, Cole Kashimoto takes two steps to catch a routine flyball.

But he had to run so far and when he dived, the ball fell right in front of him, and Russell had an easy RBI double.

So why doesn’t Russell and the other Vulcans hit against the shift to pick up easy basehits?

“First of all, it’s not easy to make contact. You fail more than you succeed,” Miyataki said. “Yes, they have scouting reports, but hat’s off to Kashimoto. He played a hell of a series. He’s fast and quick and the reason they stayed in the game.

“Our pitchers had a tough time pitching to him. I told them you can’t focus on him. That’s not your call. It’s the umpire’s. You have to make the adjustment.”

Miyataki is right about making contact. It’s not like shooting a free throw in basketball. Even the world’s worst shooters can hit 52.7 percent, which is Shaquille O’Neal’s career average.

The Vulcans will update their scouting report on Kashimoto, who batted 3 for 11, drew two walks, and had three RBIs. They played Little League shallow depth against him, and he burned them when he cracked a ball over an outfielder’s head.

He may be 5 foot 3 but he shows as much power as players far bigger than him. Pitchers are doing him a favor when they try to throw fastballs by him.

That’s the dilemma for baseball coaches today, especially pitching gurus like Miyataki.

“That’s the trend today. Everybody wants to play pro ball,” he said. “The reality is they want to show how hard they can throw. The MLB average is 94 mph, and they haven’t learned how to pitch yet. They don’t understand pitchability, changing speeds.”

Miyataki is a historian of pitchers who knew how to upset timing, masters like Greg Maddux and his left-handed clone, Jamie Moyer, who threw 84 mph but won 269 games and pitched for 25 years until age 47.

If Moyer could survive and get outs with a below-average fastball but a plus-plus changeup, couldn’t the Vulcans do the same thing?

That’s what he’s always trying to teach his pitchers, how to master the art of upsetting timing and their emotions. It’s a reason he has one of college’s baseball’s slowest walks to the mound when he talks to his pitchers.

“It’s not too much about mechanics,” he said. “It’s how they’re feeling on the mound. When I walk to the mound, I’m looking at their eyes, their perspiration, how they’re feeling. We trust what we do in practice. It’s more a mental issue. It applies the higher level you go.”

Junior left-hander Kyle Alcorn (1-1, 1,86 ERA) has established himself as the staff ace. Junior transfer lefty Cameron Scudder (0-1, 2.61) is the clear No. 2 arm. Jonathan Buhl (0-0, 18.00), a junior transfer right-hander, has pitched just four innings.

Freshman right-hander Christian DeJesus (0-1, 4.91), from Kamehameha-Kapalama, or senior right-hander Brandyn Lee-Lehano (0-0, 3.75) are candidates for the No. 4 spot, depending on how much Lee-Lehano is used in relief.

Trey Yukumoto (.353 batting average), Chris Aubort (.348), Casey Yamauchi (.333), and Brandyn Yoshida (.294) have been UHH’s top hitters. Aubort (.609 slugging) is a scoring-threat and run-producing leadoff hitter. He’s usually slugging his way to scoring position or knocking someone in.

But it’s Russell, like Gallagher, who terrorizes pitchers. Make a mistake against either hitter and the ball is deposited on a hill somewhere over the outfield fence.

“Trey is a smart kid, not really big but plays with savvy,” Miyataki said. “He learned a lot from his dad (Garrett, a Vulcan assistant).

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“But it’s Kobie they fear. They’re careful to throw him strikes.”

If the Sharks do, hopefully, there are runners on base, and Russell smokes a ball to left field, where everyone can run forever.

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