By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea third baseman Korin Medeiros and Hilo first baseman Keenan Nishioka have been on top of the world as teammates. They were on the Hilo All-Star Senior League World Series championship ballclub last summer.
The Warriors won the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state title, and the Vikings finished third. And success has shadowed each senior in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, too.
Both will be teammates again. But things could be much different at their new destination.
Medeiros and Nishioka each signed a national letter of intent with the University of Hawaii at Hilo and will try to turn around a program that has posted 20 straight losing seasons.
“I’m hoping this recruiting class, with Korin, too, can turn it around,” Nishioka said. “It’s a pretty decent class coming in. I know of three guys from Oahu: outfielder Cole Nagamine from Campbell, pitcher Micah Witty-Oakland from Pac-Five and Leilehua pitcher Kenan Sadanaga.
“I feel privileged. I was not expecting to get anything to go to college, until UHH offered me. I feel privileged to play for coach Joey (Estrella).”
UHH has not released the names of any signed players. The Vulcans finished 15-33 overall, including 12-27 for second-to-last in the six-team Pacific West Conference.
Nishioka, who received a scholarship that covers more than half of his tuition, also was recruited by Pacific University, a Division III school that offered academic aid. He had a 3.8 grade-point average and plans to major in pre-engineering.
“I want to be a civil engineer, build waterways and roads,” he said. “I like math and science. That’s one of my strengths and that’s what engineering is about. My uncle Owen Nishioka is a civil engineer.”
Nishioka missed seven games during the BIIF season with an injured hamstring. At the time, he was stinging the ball to all fields, an improvement he credited to joining Kaha Wong’s hitting school.
“My game turned around in my senior year. I was hitting the ball harder, and getting faster and stronger,” he said. “For the hitting part, coach Kaha helped me a lot. I’m using my whole body more and hitting with a lot more power.”
He’s seeking more power with a weight-lifting regimen to add muscle to his 6-foot, 185-pound frame. An additional 15 pounds of muscle is his target.
“I’m going to lift weights and eat a lot. I’m coming back from injury, too. I still have to strengthen my right leg,” he said. “The best part is being able to play somewhere in college and have some of my schooling paid for, and also to play baseball and have fun.”
Like Nishioka, Medeiros has a strong desire to play at home. He had scholarship offers from three junior colleges — Lon Morris in Texas, College of Southern Nevada, and Chemeketa in Salem, Ore. — Pacific and Hawaii Pacific.
“Everyone else is going away. I thought I’d support my hometown team and try to help rebuild the program,” said Medeiros, who had a 3.0 GPA and plans to major in kinesiology. “I try not to think about that losing streak. I want to just play college ball at that level.”
Medeiros and Nishioka played in PONY League as eighth and ninth graders. So before they became rivals at Waiakea and Hilo, they were teammates.
“We’re both on the quiet side and work hard,” Nishioka said. “Korin is a really good player. He’s respectful and a hard worker, and a good friend.”
Hard work is a hobby for Medeiros, who wakes up early to lift weights, then lifts again in the afternoon and also employs a health-conscious diet of no starches, fast foods or anything bad for the body.
Nishioka, Medeiros and his brother, Waiakea sophomore left-hander Kodi Medeiros, will all play Big League (ages 17-18) this summer. The season starts Friday at Wong Stadium. All three are leaning toward not traveling with the Hilo All-Stars for a run at another World Series championship due to school conflicts.
Despite graduation and more free time on his hands, by no means will Medeiros be taking it easy.
“I lift to build strength and endurance. It’s the same routine. I also practice my hitting, running and throwing to stay in shape all the way to college season,” said Medeiros, who got a full-ride. “The best thing is I get to play in front of the home crowd and I can enjoy a home-cooked meal still yet, and save my parents a lot of money, too.
“My goal was to have my parents not pay for anything for college. And it’s going to happen.”