With a deep bench, talented catcher and experienced pitching staff, the Konawaena Wildcats are primed for a run at the Big Island Interscholastic Division II title.
“It will be the same type of ball as last year with aggressive base running and batting,” said second-year Konawaena head coach Dave Distel. “I have a lot of guys on the bench, which causes healthy competition within our own team. Last year it was a smaller team of 14 to 15 guys and not much competition for starting jobs. This year we have great competition and that is what it is all about.”
The Wildcats return four All-BIIF selections, most notably catcher Evyn Yamaguchi and pitcher Jordan Miyahira-Young.
Miyahira-Young headlines the Wildcats’ pitching staff, which will roll five deep this season.
The senior hurler had a stellar preseason, posting a 0.82 ERA and nine strikeouts in 17 innings pitched.
Miyahira-Young is joined on the mound by fellow All-BIIF selections Shelton Grace and Zane Gray. Logan Canda and 6-foot-4 junior Garrett Eikelboom — nicknamed G-Boom by his coach — will also see time tossing the ball.
“Our pitching is our strength,” Distel said. “We are so deep I think that is going to write us in. We have five guys who can start anytime.”
Behind the plate, undisputed Wildcat senior captain Evyn Yamaguchi is the glue that holds the squad together.
“One thing we have that no other team can say they have is Evan Yamaguchi at catcher. He does everything that a catcher needs to do,” Distel said. “He’s a leader, he calls the pitches and makes every play we need him to.”
In the preseason, Yamaguchi recorded a .520 batting average on 31 plate appearances, knocking in a team-high 11 RBIs and using his speed to accumulate seven extra-base hits.
“He made some tweaks this offseason, and his hitting has been torrid so far,” Distel said.
While his play on the diamond has been a point of conversation, Yamaguchi’s leadership qualities are what make him indispensable for the Wildcats.
“I’ve coached and worked with several catchers who made it to the major leagues,” said Distel, who has more than 50 years of baseball experience on his resume. “You don’t compare a kid like that to a major leaguer at this point, but as a leader, he is one of the more exceptional young men on this island.”
Yamaguchi has a defensive instinct few players possess. From his position behind the plate, Yamaguchi has no reserves about attempting to throw out lazy base runners, lollygagging back to the bag.
When asked how much rein Distel gives his senior catcher on how he calls the game, the coach sternly said “99.9 percent of it.”
“I trust him completely. We talk about what is going to happen before the game, come up with a game plan and I let him call it,” Distel said.
Distel has a similar trust with his No. 1 gun on the mound, Miyahira-Young.
“I told Jordan that I enjoy watching him pitch,” Distel said. “I give him the ball before the game and let him know if they foul one out and he needs another one, I’ll be there, but other than that I let them call it.”
“Too much coaching is a bad thing sometimes. We do so much preparation beforehand that these guys know what I want and I know what they are capable of.”
Shoring up the Wildcats up the middle is senior second baseman Royce Torres-Torioka.
Distel is still tweaking his roster, but said he has seven positions locked up heading into the first regular season game against Pahoa March 15.
A new starter for the Wildcats is sophomore Logan Canda at shortstop. Canda has shown glimpses of power and skill, but Distel is looking for Canda to be a reliable everyday starter.
Canda batted .444 this preseason and brought in nine RBIs. He also accounted for a team-high seven errors.
“It is kind of a gamble for us to start a sophomore, but how else do you get experience?” Distel said. “He has been ripping the ball but because he is so young what we are looking for is consistency out of him.”
The mantra Distel preaches to his team daily is to make the routine plays, record one exceptional play a game; keep the line moving on offense and get productive outs on defense. With that simple, but effective game plan, he believes the Wildcats can bring the BIIF title back to Kealakekua.
“It’s just a few little things right now,” Distel said. “We take care of those things and we will be right up there toward the top.”