By Jeremy Dela Cruz, Sports Writer
Matt Arellano, Photographer
It’s going to be a fresh start for the University of Hawaii at Hilo Vulcan Baseball Team. The team is bringing in new talent and faces, including once interim head coach, who is now the acting head coach, Kallen Miyataki. The Vulcans will be starting off the 2015 season, playing a five-game series against National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics opponent, Menlo College, in Atherton, California.
The Vulcans will be keeping 22 players from last year and adding a total of eight incoming freshmen and five junior college transfers. For a better understanding, senior starting third baseman, Samuel Kim, had this to say about this year’s team, “We are a lot better at this point compared to last year. Even though we have new additions and new people, the team chemistry is there and so I’m excited about what this team has to bring to the table.”
The Vulcans record last year was 14-33. You could say that they had a roller coaster of a season. They started their season in Boise, Idaho facing Northwest Nazarene and then Fresno Pacific in Fresno, California where they dropped both series and came home with a record of 2-6. They then picked it up with a home stand, winning the series against Point Loma and splitting the series against last year’s conference champions, Cal Baptist. But that’s where the good news ends as they then lost the series to Dixie State, Holy Names, Azusa Pacific and finished the year by losing the series to in-state rival, Hawaii Pacific University. Second year transfer from Ohlone College, Michael Slifer, believes he can fix mistakes from last year by, “becoming more consistent and staying within ourselves, that’s the difference between a winning team and a team that struggles.”
This year’s upcoming schedule will include conference home games against Dixie State, HPU, Holy names, Academy of the Art and Fresno Pacific. The Vulcans will have a long two-week road trip to play against Azusa Pacific, Point Loma, Nazarene and Cal Baptist. “I’m excited to go play good teams, I’m also excited to see how we match up against the best,” said Slifer.
With the season opener around the corner, UH Hilo’s redshirt freshman pitcher, Eric Vega, had this to say about the upcoming series, “It should be a great test to see how far our team has come from last year. We have some young guys stepping up and showing their abilities. I am excited to get back on the field after a year of sitting out and getting my first college start and battle for my team.” The Vulcan’s first series will take place in Downtown Hilo at Wong Stadium, Feb. 12 through Feb. 14. The team is hoping that many students, student athletes and people from around the community will be there in full force to support the team. Sam Kim believes the turnout will be better than normal because, “we made a lot of friends outside of baseball, and we did a lot of work around the community such as youth clinics, fundraisers and special olympics.” Kim also had a message for all the students around campus, “the team would love you to come out, it makes the environment that much better.”
Even though UH Hilo is a Division 2 team and Menlo is an NAIA school, Menlo managed to defeat Hilo in a non-conference game last year in Northern California. Despite a 7-1 lead late in the ninth inning, Menlo made a comeback and won in heart-break fashion sending Hilo home with a 10-7 loss. With the loss to Menlo still fresh, the Vulcans plan to change that.
Four-year starting outfielder, Jordan Murai, reflected on his Hilo career by saying, “The first couple of years were fun; we had expectations as younger players to follow the leaders of the team. Now that this is my last year and I have seniority, I have to lead with example. And the sad part is that I might not play ever again.” Hilo will be saying ‘aloha’ to seven senior players this year including Michael Slifer, Jeremy Dela Cruz, Jarin Kadooka, Chris Hubocan, Sammy Kim, Jordan Murai, and Chris Terry. A few have played their whole career here in Hilo, some spent two years, and for Terry this will be his first and final year in a Vulcan uniform.
The Vulcans are well prepared for the 2015 season, which includes a grueling 47-game schedule. Very determined and four-year pitcher out of Kapolei, Hawaii, Jarin Kadooka, says he put in a lot more work this season than his previous three years here. He also added that, “It gets more serious when it’s your senior year.” When asked about his overall baseball experience at Hilo he said, “Looking back at the four years that I’ve played here, it was an experience of a lifetime and just an overall great opportunity to play college ball.”