Toreros ready to play ball in Tempe
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
When the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals get under way Friday, it will mean a reunion of sorts for some players — but hardly under friendly conditions.
In the opening game of the Tempe, Ariz. Regional, the 15th-ranked University of San Diego — a squad with three local players — faces Western Athletic Conference champion Hawai'i. The game will be played at 11 a.m. Hawai'i time at ASU's Packard Stadium, and will be followed by Wisconsin-Milwaukee (33-24) taking on top-seeded Arizona State (47-8).
"We're pretty excited for the opportunity to play in the regionals and open against UH," said San Diego sophomore catcher Zack Kometani, a 2008 Punahou graduate.
The Toreros (36-20) qualified for the regionals after walking away with the West Coast Conference with a 19-2 league record (The WCC does not have a postseason tournament). Kometani and his teammates gathered Monday morning for the selection show.
"I think it was just kind of cool to see 'Hawai'i' pop up along with our team," said Kometani, who recalled an 8-6 loss to the Rainbows (33-26) back on March 29. "I'm friends with a lot of their players, especially since we played together growing up. We're all pretty competitive and since we lost to them last time, we all kind of want to get back at them."
Kometani, one of three catchers on the San Diego roster, had a breakout game in the loss to UH. He batted 3 for 4 with two home runs and drove in three runs with two runs scored.
"I hit my first career collegiate home run that day," said Kometani, who is 6 foot and 190 pounds. "It was kind of cool to hit it against UH. I would say that game was definitely a turning point for me. All three of the catchers were getting playing time early on, so my at-bats were kind of limited at that time, but after that I kind of went off for the next month or so and ever since then, I've been in the lineup pretty much."
Kometani has started 20 of the 31 games he has appeared in this season and is batting .358 with six homers, 22 RBIs and 17 runs scored.
He played sparingly last year, but progressed enough in the offseason to be in contention for a starting job.
"Last year, I came in and there was a senior at catcher and I was a freshman so I had to work hard to get in there," Kometani said. "I did really well this fall and thought I would be the starting (designated hitter) on opening day, but it didn't work out that way. It was pretty disappointing at the time, but I tried to stay positive and wait for my shot. It all paid off in the end."
The two other Toreros players from Hawai'i — true freshmen Kalei Hanawahine and Reyn Nagamine — are in a similar position that Kometani was in last year.
Hanawahine, an outfielder and 2009 Kamehameha graduate, has played in 40 games — including 13 starts — but most of them came early in the season. Nagamine, a first baseman and 2009 'Iolani alum, has not appeared in any games this season.
"This season's just been a growing process for me, about getting better and improving my game everyday and trying to soak in what the coaches have been telling me," Hanawahine said. "Early in the season, the coaches were giving everyone a shot and when a couple of guys that expected to do well, I got a chance and I played well in the first couple of weekend series. Maybe through the middle of the year, I wasn't as hot as I started and I got taken out of the lineup, but that's baseball."
Hanawahine is batting .318 with 10 RBIs and nine runs scored while mostly pinch hitting in late-inning situations.
"Lately, I've been getting some at-bats and some innings in the outfield, but I just kind of always have to be prepared and ready for the unexpected," Hanawahine said.
It is a lesson he learned after his very first collegiate at-bat.
"It was opening day against Indiana and we had a pretty good crowd that day," Hanawahine recalled. "I was called on to pinch hit with the bases loaded and two outs and I struck out on three pitches — it was like a baptism by fire. But, I got another at-bat later in the game and I got an RBI single."
Hanawahine said he has relied upon Kometani for help on and off the field this year.
"Me and him have become really great friends," Hanawahine said. "I'd go to him on advice about hitting, on how to approach practices, approach games and he kind of took me under his wing since I didn't really know the ropes."
Hanawahine said the trio often shares stories about their playing days in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
"Reyn and I are roommates, so we always talk about the ILH tournament games and state tournament games that we played in," Hanawahine said. "We always joke around with each other, but Kometani, he's always just talking smack about how (Punahou) has won so many state championships, but we can't really say anything, so we just kind of look the other way."
Kometani said the ribbing is all in good nature.
"Yeah, it's actually pretty funny. Our entire team is in on the joke, so if Kalei does something good, the guys on our team will be like 'Ooooh, Kamehameha!' and if I do something good, then they'll say something like 'Punahou is better,' Kometani said.
However, the Toreros will be all business when they arrive in Tempe.
"We're definitely anxious and ready to hit the road," Hanawahine said. "It's a pretty big deal if you think about it. We're really thankful to play on such a big stage for college baseball — not many people get this chance."
NOTES: San Diego visited Arizona State for a midweek, two-game series on April 5-6, but lost both games, 15-0 and 11-6 ... The Toreros' schedule is rated the fourth toughest in the nation, according to boydsworld.com ... The Toreros have won 22 of their last 28 games ... San Diego sports a team batting average of .314 while opponents are hitting .255 against them ... Torero pitchers have a 4.47 ERA on the year.
• Northwestern sophomore Paul Snieder (Punahou '08 of Honolulu) batted 1 for 3 with a walk in a 5-0 loss to Indiana last Wednesday at the Big Ten Conference Tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Snieder was 0 for 3 with a walk in Thursday's 11-1 loss to Purdue in an elimination game. Sophomore right-hander Michael Jahns (St. Anthony '08 of Kīhei) allowed two runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief for the Wildcats, who ended the year with a 24-32 record.
• Cal State Northridge junior outfielder Ridge Carpenter (Kalani '07 of Honolulu) batted 1 for 3 with an RBI and run scored in a 15-4 season-ending loss to Cal State Fullerton Sunday. He also doubled in Friday's 6-0 loss to the Titans and went 1 for 3 with a stolen base in Saturday's 6-0 loss. The Matadors finished the season with a 29-27 record, 9-15 in the Big West.
• Steven Dannaway (Punahou '06 of Honolulu), a senior third baseman who plays for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, has been named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American Third Team. Dannaway recorded a team-best .450 batting average with 68 hits, 51 RBIs and 39 runs scored while starting all 38 games this season. He also led the team in slugging (.715) and on-base percentage (.497). Dannaway, a physics major, maintained a 3.61 GPA.
• Metro State (Colo.) senior outfielder Kellie Nishikida (Pearl City '04) layed down a sacrifice bunt in the top of the fifth inning of the Roadrunners' 1-0 win over Wayne State (Mich.) Saturday in the NCAA Division II Softball College World Series in St. Joseph, Mo. Nishikida's bunt moved Molly Clark to third base and a Wayne State error allowed Clark to score. In Sunday's 7-2 loss to Hawai'i Pacific, Nishikida batted 1 for 3 with a single in the fourth inning. Metro State ended the season with a 53-6 record.
• Mikey Lim (Punahou '06 of Honolulu), a senior who plays for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, helped the Stags to a third-place finish at the NCAA Division III Team Championships in Oberlin, Ohio last week. Lim won 6-3 and 6-3 at No. 2 singles and teamed with Russell Brockett to win 8-5 at third doubles to give CMS a 5-2 win over Washington (Mo.). Lim also won two matches in the semifinal round, but the Stags lost to Amherst, 5-4.
• Former BYU safety Shiloah Te'o (Kahuku '08 of Lā'ie) is transferring to Oregon State, his father David confirmed to Scout.com. Te'o, a 5-foot-11, 212-pounder who was mostly used on special teams during his two seasons at BYU, was dismissed from the team in October for a violation of team rules. David Te'o said his son will enroll in summer session at OSU, which begins June 21. He must sit out the upcoming season, but will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2011.