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BIIF baseball: Call to arms for Ka Makani

March 19, 2017 - 12:05am

KEAAU – Hawaii Prep’s pitching sharpness was highlighted by Jonah Hurney, Finn Richmond, and Michael Hughes’ combined no free pass performance.

The trio collaborated on a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts in a Ka Makani 9-0 win over Keaau in a BIIF baseball game Saturday at the Cougars field.

Hurney fired three perfect innings and struck out six for the win. Richmond, a junior right-hander, went three frames, allowed two singles and whiffed four. Hughes finished with one inning and two strikeouts.

The Division II Ka Makani (5-5) managed just six hits, but Hughes and Blake Winston had two-run base hits.

Sheldon Aribal batted 2 for 4 while Hughes and Winston had two RBIs each.

Keaau right-hander Bryant Respicio-Mercado pitched five innings in the loss. Dylan Kamakea sank everything he threw in two scoreless innings.

Respicio-Mercado and Anson Kauwe had the only hits for the Division I Cougars (3-6), who couldn’t generate any offense because HPA was in no mood to walk anyone.

Hurney, a junior, and Hughes, a freshman, were part of the BIIF runner-up HPA basketball team, which reached the HHSAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

The last time HPA’s baseball team qualified for states was also in 2014, and maybe Ka Makani coach Jordan Hayslip has enough pitching to make a return.

The two left-handers prefer baseball over hoops, grew up on the diamond and hope to pitch in college.

Hurney, the leadoff hitter, batted 1 for 3 and scored two runs against Keaau. Hughes, in the cleanup spot, went 1 for 3 and also scored two runs.

“For basketball, the height is crazy,” said the 5-foot-9 Hurney. “The point guards are over 6 feet. Being left-handed, that helps me, especially with pitching.”

Hurney first started playing T-ball in Waikoloa, then played for the West Coast All-Stars, and later jumped to Waimea Little League.

He grew up playing hoops in the Waimea P&R leagues run by Melissa Samura, and later joined Club Imi Pono, coached by Mark Low and Kalewa O’Neal.

Hurney has a repeatable delivery and kept everything down against the Cougars. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he kept Keaau off-balanced, a sound strategy no matter what a pitcher’s velocity.

“I thought I was pretty good today,” said an understated Hurney. “I throw a fastball, cutter, and changeup. I just wanted to throw a first-pitch strike, really to start things off, and just get ahead in the count.

“I like our team chemistry. It’s almost the same team as last year. Everybody knows each other and feels free to have fun.”

Hughes has a delivery similar to 2012 HPA graduate and left-hander Jayse Bannister, who pitched at Holy Names.

Both short arm the ball, holding the ball closer to their body, like a catcher, before firing to home plate. Bannister hid the ball well and so does Hughes.

The HPA freshman is 5-11 and his dad Steve Hughes is 6-2, so the lanky southpaw is still growing into his body.

The family moved from Colorado two years ago. Like Hurney, Hughes jumped on the diamond early at 5 years old. He went to pitching camps and had a personal coach.

While Bannister held his arm in an “L” position, Hughes’ load (the moment before the ball is released) is more diagonal and his stuff has sharp break and movement.

Hughes doesn’t have command like Hurney, whose best attributes are his balance and timing. Everything flows smoothly together from his hip turn to his follow-through.

Even if he doesn’t know it, Hurney serves a role model for Hughes, who throws quite a bit harder.

“I like pitching and being in the moment and in control of things,” said Hughes, who throws a fastball, curve, slider, and changeup. “When I watch Jonah, he has a nice hip rotation. I tend to come straight forward.”

Once Hughes figures out his pitching motion comfort zone, he’ll be something to see. In fact, he caught the attention of Keaau coach Herb Yasuhara.

“He has good stuff. There’s movement on his pitches,” Yasuhara said. “All three of their guys who threw today I was impressed with them. Jonah has smooth timing and mechanics. They all looked really polished.”

As for Yasuhara’s Cougars, his team is pretty young.

Respicio-Mercado is just a freshman. Kamakea is only a sophomore as well as Edward Oguma, another pitcher. Kauwe, a shortstop and pitcher, is a key anchor as a senior.

“Right now, we’re not reacting fast enough,” Yasuhara said. “Baseball is a game you have to think one play ahead. We just want to get everybody ready, and hopefully by the playoffs we’ll be competitive.”

HPA is thinking the same thing, especially if Hurney, Richmond, and Hughes, the youngster with a package of potential, continue their pitching sharpness.

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