HONOKAA – It wasn’t even 1:30 p.m. on a sunny Saturday in North Hawaii, and Aiden Joaquin had a chance to look forward to the remainder of his day.
“I’m probably going to sleep,” Joaquin said.
His Honokaa-Konawaena club team had just put in a long day’s work, and by any Big Island high school baseball definition it was a job well done. Victories against a squad with the name Hilo or Waiakea – whether a club team or not – on the diamond can be hard to come by, and Honokaa-Konawaena pulled off an East Hawaii sweep in Big Island Wood Bat Academy league play.
Coach Devin Joaquin didn’t sound surprised.
“My lineup is complete,” he said. “These kids right here, they’ve come through the system. I’ve been with a lot of them since T-ball. Even the Kona kids, my son played travel ball, so I was out there coaching them as well.”
His pitching was solid, too.
Buoyed by home runs from Bronson Rivera and Justin Pascua, Aiden Joaquin delivered six solid innings of one-run ball in a 5-3 win against Waiakea. Earlier, Justin Birch went six innings and backed himself with three hits at the plate in a 7-4 win against Hilo.
“I felt really good going to the mound,” said Joaquin, a Honokaa High sophomore. “I face these boys all year, so I know all their weaknesses. I just pitch to my strengths and their weaknesses.”
Of his strengths, Joaquin said, “My offspeed stuff. I’ve been polishing my fastball into a two-seamer, so I’ve been gaining a lot of MPH.”
Waiakea never was able to square up Joaquin’s pitches with runners on base. Trailing 5-1 in the top of the sixth, Waiakea loaded the bases on a hit batter, Kyson Wada’s single and an error. Joaquin responded by giving a master class in pitching out of trouble, striking out a batter and inducing two squibbers back to the mound to get out of the inning.
“(Joaquin) pitched well and pounded the strike zone, and we didn’t execute when we had too,” Waiakea coach Chris Honda said. “You have to have those timely hits and cash in.”
None of the wood bat teams hold an official relationship with the high school their players attend, but Joaquin, Pascua and Birch provided a good account of Dragons’ baseball. Pascua and Birth are each juniors.
“This year is definitely a missed (BIIF) opportunity,” Devin Joaquin said, “but next year should be a really good year for Honokaa High.”
Rivera, a Konawaena senior with a University of Hawaii scholarship in hand, hit a two-run home run to center in the bottom of the third, and the next batter, Pascua, followed with a similar drive to clear the fence at the Parks and Recreation field.
Caisin Mateo and Mason Hirata led off the top of the seventh with singles, and Waiakea scored two runs with two hit batters and a walk. With the tying run on second and two outs, Trez Uemoto got the final out on a liner to center.
Honda said some of his players took part in the fall wood bat league, but most are still getting up to speed. Waiakea held one formal practice together before its opener. Honokaa-Konawaena, which also took part in the fall league, also had precious little practice time together before beating Hawaii Prep 14-4 on April 3.
“It’s all about bringing them back into the game and getting them in live situations,” Honda said.
His first season at the helm of Waiakea High was cut down by the pandemic last year, and his second never was able to get off the ground.
“I like what I saw,” he said. “A lot of the players got bigger, stronger, and you can’t teach that. Now we have something to work with when we got back to full-swing practice.”
In the first game, Ethan Yamaguchi collected two hits and two RBIs as Honokaa-Konawaena withstood home runs by Hilo’s Xaige Lancaster and Tobey Jackson.
His team playing for the first time in three months with one formal practice to prepare, Hilo coach Baba Lancaster was encouraged by the performance of pitcher Hekili Robello, who went three innings and mixed a curveball and changeup with a lively fastball.
Hand thermometers were in deep supply at the field. They resemble miniature speed guns, but they don’t track fastballs.
“Wish we had someone clocking him just to see how firm he was throwing,” Lancaster said.
Despite the name of the league, players use aluminum bats.
Kamehameha sweeps BIIF doubleheader
Hanalei Warren went 4 for 4 at the plate and pitched four shutout innings in an 11-0 victory, then three pitchers combined on a one-hitter in a 12-0 win against HPA in Waimea.
Makana Carbonel-Mang (two innings), Dylan Hansen (one) and Salvatore Martino (two) combined to strike out nine batters. Keahi Hisashima was 2 for 3 with a double, two RBIs and three runs scored, Martino and Cross Pola also finished with two hits and Haiden Kay had a double with two RBIs.
Kaohu Kawelu had two hits in each game.
Jonah Reich hit a three-run home run in the first game, while Dominic Christensen clubbed a solo blast, going 2 for 3 with three RBIs. In relief of Warren, who recorded seven strikeouts, Reich struck out the side in the fifth in the first of two five-inning TKOs.
Nate Heymann fanned 10 for Ka Makani in four innings. Ikaika Apilado worked 3 2/3 innings and took the loss in the second game
In BIIF softball in Waimea, Kamehameha beat HPA 12-0 and 11-10.