Mililani Begins Play March 7, Has Talent To Win State Title

In the ultra-competitive OIA Red West baseball race, Mililani head coach Mark Hirayama always is focused on his own team. Scouting reports on the opposition are not a prime part of the preparation process.

“We try to take care of what we can control and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “We always treat each game (and each opponent) the same. We teach fundamentals and try to do the little things to keep close in ball games and, hopefully, it works out at the end. We always need our pitcher to throw strikes, play defense, and we need to put the ball in play, offensively.”

Hirayama’s formula has worked, especially when it counts most. The team has advanced to the Division I state title game each of the last two seasons. Although the Trojans came up short both times, they’ve established themselves as one of the state’s best programs.

Mililani finished 12-7 in 2014, including third place in the OIA postseason tournament. They defeated Hilo, Mid-Pacific and Kailua at states to make the title game, where they were beaten by Saint Louis.

Riveting postseason runs also have a way of providing fuel for the future. “I don’t know if it was the momentum of finishing on a high note, but there seems to be a little more focus,” said Hirayama. “The kids have been working real hard in the off-season and the preseason.”

After coming within a few plays of winning a state title the last two years, could the payoff year be 2015? All signs point in that direction for the Trojans, who will have one of the most experienced teams in the OIA, with 16 seniors and 14 juniors on their roster.

“It’s an older group, and we’ll need all 30 to play. We won’t depend on one player to carry us. We’ll need it to be more of a team effort.”

The four players who earned All-Conference honors last spring return for 2015, led by senior shortstop Justice Nakagawa, who already has signed to play at Hawaii Pacific University next year. Nakagawa batted .346 as a junior to earn a spot on the OIA Red West’s First Team. “We’ll rely on him to captain our defense,” Hirayama said.

The Trojans also are excited about their talent pool in the outfield, behind Adam Connell, Kainoa Wilson and Kaimana Souza-Paaluhi, who was a Second Team All-League pick in 2014.

“I think we’ll have one of the fastest outfields around,” Hirayama said.

The pitching staff benefits from the return of 2014 Second Team All-Star catcher Sean Sonognini, whom Hirayama called one of the best (catchers) in the state.

Offensively, Mililani “hit the ball well during pre-season, so, hopefully, it will carry over into our regular season.”

The Trojans’ OIA opener is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, when they host Pearl City. The home slate also includes games against Radford March 11, Leilehua March 14 and 28, Waianae April 8 and Waipahu April 15. On the road, they meet Waianae March 18, Waipahu March 21, Radford March 25, Pearl City April 10 and Campbell April 18.