'Ohana big part of JC team's success
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
Yavapai College catcher Aaron Asher remembers being awestruck at the crowd gathered to watch the Junior College World Series last week in Grand Junction, Colo.
"It was a rush," the 2004 'Aiea High graduate said. "We played in front of 11,000 and 12,000 fans. The atmosphere was so energized. It's a real good feeling being there because it's a baseball town."
Walters State Community College (Morristown, Tenn.) defeated Yavapai (Prescott, Ariz.), 7-6, to win the national title Saturday at Suplizio Field.
Asher was joined on the 51-11 Yavapai team by three other players from Hawai'i — shortstop Troy Hanzawa (Mid-Pacific 2004), third baseman Milton Loo (Moloka'i 2004) and pitcher Kirby Yates (Kaua'i 2005).
"Just getting to Grand Junction was a blast, and finishing second was a plus," said Hanzawa, who along with Asher and Loo will be playing elsewhere next season.
Asher will suit up for Hawai'i Pacific, and Hanzawa for San Diego State. Loo signed with the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and received a $220,000 signing bonus.
"Unfortunately, we have to go our separate ways," Asher said. "We didn't want to, but that's life. We wished each other the best of luck, and we'll keep in touch."
Yates underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow May 26, and doctors told him full recovery is "anywhere from 12 to 18 months." Yates, who pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings this season, said he's leaning toward returning to Yavapai when he's healed.
"I talked to the coaches, they want me to come back," said Yates, who was a 26th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox last summer. "Right now, if I had to make a choice, I would go there."
Loo and Hanzawa were selected to the Junior College World Series all-tournament team. Loo, who hit three home runs in the tournament, downplayed the award.
"I'm not an individual guy," Loo told The Daily Sentinel. "I go for the team."
Yavapai defeated Walters State, 9-0, Friday in the double-elimination tournament, setting up Saturday's championship game.
"We played them a day before, and we were feeling pretty confident," said Hanzawa, who batted 2 for 4 with a triple and RBI in the title game. "Then again, anything can happen on any given day."
Walters State (61-8) — a team that hit 138 home runs during the season — scored what proved to be the winning run on a squeeze bunt in the top of the eighth inning for a 7-5 lead.
"We really didn't think they would come up with a squeeze," Asher said. "It just really surprised me. They hadn't done that all tournament."
Yavapai cut the deficit to 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning on Hanzawa's run-scoring triple, but that's as close as it would get.
"I wish I could have been there to pitch, and I wish I could have been there to help the team," Yates said. "I was proud to say I was part of the Yavapai baseball team. What Milton, Troy and Ash did in that World Series, and what they did all year, basically the state of Hawai'i should be proud. That's how I feel."
Asher said after the game, Loo gathered his teammates, told them how great they were, and signed the Cincinnati Reds' contract.
Loo "told us that we were one family, and one 'ohana, and he signed it in front of us," Asher said. "It was real special for him."
Loo (.351, 5 HRs, 53 RBIs, 32 SBs) and Hanzawa (.395, 1 HR, 31 RBIs, 28 SBs) were selected to the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 1 first team. Asher (.299, 4 HRs, 31 RBIs, 4 SBs) made the second team.
Hanzawa was also named to the NJCAA All-America first team.
"I was surprised to get it," Hanzawa said of that award. "It was something I didn't expect."
Hanzawa and Asher said they'll miss their Yavapai teammates and head coach Sky Smeltzer and his assistants. However, Asher said the Hawai'i players left their legacy teaching Yavapai players pidgin.
"We taught them pau, we taught them 'ohana," Asher said. "Before every game, we would huddle and yell, ' 'Ohana!' as a group because we're one family."
The Hawai'i players also shared their musical tastes, including songs from a well-known late Hawai'i singer.
"You know Israel Kamakawiwo'ole?" Asher said. "They had trouble with his last name, and we were teaching them how to say it right. It was a blast."
Reach Brandon Masuoka at firstname.lastname@example.org.