By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
It's been seven presidents, six moon landings and 36 years since St. Joseph School last appeared in a state high school baseball tournament.
So you can't blame the Cardinals, runners-up in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, for soaking in the moments leading up to tonight's first-round game against Maui Interscholastic League champion Baldwin (10-1). First pitch is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu.
"We're excited, everybody's ecstatic," said athletic director Ella Yasso, who has worked at the school for the past 10 years. "For most of us, it's a first as far as baseball."
St. Joseph, nestled between the much larger Hilo and Waiakea High Schools, is a private institution with an enrollment of 170 students in grades 9-12, including 89 boys. The Cardinals (7-2) returned almost everyone from last year's 8-4 team, but they earned the state berth only after Kealakehe upset Hilo, 5-1, last Saturday.
St. Joseph was upset by Pahoa, 2-0, earlier this season a loss that almost cost the Cardinals a ticket to O'ahu.
"Our main objective before the season was to make it to the state tournament," St. Joseph coach Gary Ahu said. "We knew we had the team to go there this year. But then we lost to Pahoa ... The guys needed to wake up. And they did."
Following the defeat, the Cardinals won five straight games before a 3-2 loss to BIIF champion Waiakea. They ended the season with a 2-1 victory over Hawai'i Prep, receiving five strong innings from their ace, James Onaga, in that finale. Onaga, a 6-foot-3 senior right-hander who posted shutouts wins over Kealakehe, Konawaena and Hilo, had a string of 19 consecutive scoreless innings at one point this season.
Junior right-hander Tyson Usui, who pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Honoka'a, is a solid No. 2 starter.
In addition to their returning players, the Cardinals also got a boost from brothers Aaron and Ronnie Carvalho, both of whom transferred from Hilo. Aaron is a senior second baseman and Ronnie, a sophomore, starts at third.
Ahu's son Jaime was a former standout at Hilo and the University of Hawai'i, and his younger son Gary Jr., another former Hilo standout, is a redshirt freshman for the Rainbow Warriors.
Ahu Sr. is in his second season as St. Joseph's coach, and with a host of underclassmen still on his roster, he doesn't expect the school to wait another 36 years for its next state tournament appearance.
But that doesn't mean the Cardinals can't savor this state appearance.
"We're excited for our kids, it's their first time," Ahu said. "We had real good practices this week. And with good pitching, who knows? Miracles might happen."
SHORT HOPS: No. 1 seed Mid-Pacific, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion, has not played a game since it beat Iolani, 4-3, in the ILH tournament final on May 5. The Owls (14-3) have not lost since a 5-1 defeat to Iolani on April 7. ... A notable absence from the tournament is two-time defending champion Moloka'i (8-3). The Farmers lost to Baldwin, 6-2, in the second round of the MIL tournament, then won three straight loser's bracket games to earn the right to face the Bears again. But Baldwin prevailed on Saturday, 7-0, behind Tyson Higa's two-hitter. ... Due to limited spaces at Hans L'Orange, free parking will be available at the Waikele Shopping Center's employee parking lot, which is located on Ko'aki Street near the Ko'aki Street/Pa'iwa Street intersection, about ´ mile from Hans L'Orange (past right field).æA free shuttle service courtesy of E Noa Tours will be provided to and from the parking lot ... At Aloha Stadium, all youth league baseball/softball players in uniform (6th grade and below) will be admitted free tonight and tomorrow.
WALLY YONAMINE FOUNDATION STATE BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
43rd annual Hawai'i High School Athletic Association Tournament
(Seeds in parentheses)
At Aloha Stadium
- Mid-Pacific (1) vs. Pearl City, 6 p.m.
- Waiakea (4) vs. Moanalua, 8:30 p.m.
At Hans L'Orange Park
- Kailua (3) vs. Kaua'i, 6 p.m.
- Baldwin (2) vs. St. Joseph, 8:30 p.m.
At Aloha Stadium
- Winner of Mid-Pacific/Pearl City vs. winner of Waiakea/Moanalua, 1 p.m.
- Winner of Baldwin/St. Joseph vs. winner of Kailua/Kaua'i, 3:30 p.m.
At Aloha Stadium
- Saturday afternoon's winners, 7 p.m.
Admission: $7 adults, $5 students (kindergarten through 12). No school passes.
Special promotion (Aloha Stadium only): All youth league (6th grade and below) baseball and softball players in uniform will be admitted free.
Parking: Hans L'Orange Park free parking at Waikele Shopping Center's employee parking lot, on Ko'aki Street near intersection with Pa'iwa Street. Free shuttle will be provided to and from park. Aloha Stadium $2 (Swap Meet is open Saturday).
Television: Tape of championship game on KFVE, 9 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.