Backing the ’Bows: Big Island’s UH baseball connection still growing

  • Waiakea High grad Jacob Igawa played in 12 games in his first season at UH-Hilo earlier this year, but he transferred to the University of Hawaii to study engineering. In a 5-4 loss at UH in February, Igawa batted 3 for 4 with two RBIs, including a two-run homer, for the Vulcans. “We knew about Jacob out of high school and how he did against us,” UH coach Mike Trapasso said. “We were lucky to win. He has a maturity to him. He’s got power. He’s a young man who I enjoy talking with.” (University of Hawaii-Hilo Athletic Department/Courtesy Photo)

When Mike Trapasso visits the Big Island, he doesn’t just fly back to Oahu with a nice tan, but he also returns with a nice collection of baseball talent.

The Big Island pipeline of BIIF players to UH-Manoa keeps on growing.

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Michael Hughes (Hawaii Prep), Safea Villaruz-Mauai (Waiakea) and Jacob Igawa (UH-Hilo/Waiakea) will be the latest BIIF players to join the Rainbow Warriors whenever their season starts. UH already has Daylen Calicdan, Tai Atkins, DallasJ Duarte, all from Kamehameha, and Stone Miyao (Waiakea) on its roster. Konawaena senior shortstop Bronson Rivera has already verbally committed to the ’Bows as a member of the 2021 class.

UH’s 2020 season was cut short to 17 games because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the NCAA allowed players to maintain their class standing.

UH will have a deep bench with all the starters back in the field and starting rotation. The strength of the team, the bullpen, lost three relievers to Major League Baseball.

Miyao drew 11 starts at second base and batted .205 in 34 at-bats. But he got big-game experience. He played against No. 2 Vanderbilt on the road and against Pac 12 foes Washington State and Oregon.

“Stone will be right in the mix (for a starting job),” Trapasso said. “He got great experience as a freshman. He more than held his own. He can really play defense. He’s very valuable to us.”

Duarte drew nine starts and hit .143 in 28 at-bats, mostly at catcher.

“The thing about him is he can play other positions,” Trapasso said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if he played catcher, second base, third base or the outfield.”

Atkins, a left-hander, went 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. He struck out 13 and walked six.

“He has a chance to be special,” Trapasso said. “You don’t see too many left-handers with that (sidearm) arm angle he has. Left-handed hitters really struggle against him. I’m looking for him to do great things.

“He’ll throw from 87 to 90 mph. He’ll hit 91 mph once in a while. His arm angle is pretty good.”

Calicdan, a redshirt junior, started six games in the outfield and hit .250 in 24 at-bats.

Not everyone can be a starter or a star. Some guys resemble glue and hold a team together, like Calicdan.

“He’s the older statesman of the Big Island guys,” Trapasso said. “You can’t find a better person than Daylen. He’s an incredible worker and positive young man. He’s team-oriented and I can’t say enough about his character.”

The new additions will get all get a shot at starting because Trapasso holds open competitions.

Hughes is a two-way talent as a left-handed pitcher and outfield. He played basketball at HPA, which helped with his athleticism.

“Every time I saw him, he got a little better. His best baseball is ahead of him,” Trapasso said. “He played basketball in high school. When he solely focuses on baseball, we’ll see his athleticism take over.”

Igawa, a 2018 Waiakea graduate, transferred to UH-Manoa to study engineering, a major not offered at UH-Hilo.

He adds to the catching depth and give the ’Bows a veteran with pop in his bat. He’s a junior at UH; Igawa played a year at Pacific University. In a 5-4 loss to UH in February, Igawa batted 3 for 4 with two RBIs, including a two-run homer, for the Vulcans.

“We knew about Jacob out of high school and how he did against us,” Trapasso said. “We were lucky to win. He has a maturity to him. He’s got power. He’s a young man who I enjoy talking with.”

Villaruz-Mauai will have competition with returning first baseman Alex Baeza and designated hitter Adam Fogel. But Trapasso likes his power and game-changing potential.

“He has an opportunity to hit the middle of the lineup right away as a freshman,” he said. “No question, he’s got talent. He’s serious about his craft. He’s fun to be around. He could be special.

“The opportunity of having competition makes everyone better. Our focus is to give lot of guys opportunities and play everybody and see how the new guys respond to scoreboard pressure. It’s a nice problem to have that kind of depth. Nothing is assumed. You have to earn your keep.”

Most of the Big Island players aren’t in Honolulu for the fall semester, and Trapasso is looking at a start date of Oct. 1. There will likely be small-group workouts of five players or less to avoid large clusters.

“Most of them are on the Big Island,” he said. “UH has online classes. It’s more beneficial for them to stay home until we’re able to open up and work on Oahu.”

Trapasso’s favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s easy to assume because former players Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia, now with the San Diego Padres, played at UH.

But his link to St. Louis goes much deeper than that.

“I was born and raised in St. Louis,” he said. “That’s where my family is and my heart is. I’ve been a Cardinals fan since I was in the crib. It’s a great baseball city and town.”

It’s a lot tougher to recruit in the era of COVID-19 but Trapasso can always count on Kaha Wong to inform him of the next new talent.

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“Obviously, it starts with coach Kaha. He does a tremendous job of developing and helping kids move on to the next level,” Trapasso said. “We’ve had great luck with our Big Island guys. They’re serious about their craft and getting better and wanting to do well and taking care of business in the classroom. That’s the first priority for us.

“It started with Kolten, and he catapulted the interest on Big Island kids. They wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

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