Roughly 2,500 miles surround the islands of Hawai’i and the rest of world of college baseball, but that hasn’t deterred the Sea Warriors of Hawai’i Pacific University from leaving their mark on Division II college baseball. In just a handful of seasons at the helm, Head Coach Garrett Yukumoto has taken the Sea Wolves, from what many would thought could only be a mediocre-at-best program, to within a single game of the DII College World Series. He’s done it with a mix of hard working, selfless players from both the mainland and the islands. None of these players may exemplify that grit more than junior third baseman Blake Amaral.
Although he was recruited as a third baseman, Amaral was asked to fill a void left in the outfield left by graduation his freshman year. Despite stepping out of his comfort zone he made an immediate impact, hitting .386 with five homers while driving in 46.
Coach Yukumoto had little doubt that the change in scenery on defense would affect his production at the plate. “Whatever you need him for, he’ll do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Yukoumoto explained, “We thought Blake was athletic enough to make the transition and help the program in terms of what we needed and he adjusted well”.
So well that on April 26th Amaral set the school single game RBI record when he drove in ten runs during a 4-for-5 effort against his hometown Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans. After the season he was awarded for his efforts by earning both the Pac West Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors.
Occasionally when a player has as solid an initial campaign as Amaral did, they can press a bit in their sophomore season; especially when the element of surprise is a thing of the past. Nonetheless, Amaral continued to thrive at the plate. He raised his season batting average to .404 (fourth in the conference), said “Aloha” to eight balls and launched them over the fence and set the HPU single season record with 56 RBI. His efforts helped Hawaii Pacific to a 39-12 record and the program’s first trip to the NCAA West Regional Tournament. The newcomers didn’t disappoint. Despite dropping the opener in a lopsided loss to top ranked UC San Diego, the Sea Warriors, much to the surprise of many, sent Division II powerhouse Chico State packing before sending upstart Cal State Dominguez Hills home as well.
After his two standout seasons in Honolulu, Amaral has been named to this season’s initial Tino Martinez Award Watch List for the most outstanding player in DII baseball. He’ll be returning to his home on the hot corner and be the key to the Sea Warriors offensive attack hitting in the three hole. It won’t just be opposing pitchers who will have their eyes on him either. As he continues to develop he’ll also grab glances from pro scouts. “If Blake can overcome and persevere through the attention (of getting a chance to play pro ball) then he should be at the next level next year,” Coach Yukumoto predicts, “I tip my hat off for him”.