By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
After hours of hard work in the weight room, Hilo seniors Jodd Carter, Isaiah Banasan and Micah Kaaukai all look like they could enter a body builder’s contest or pound a baseball a mile.
The three Vikings have packed on muscle and will be the teeth in the lineup, along with Jalen Carvalho, for the defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I champion.
The big bats will need to pull more weight because all of the team’s starting pitching graduated — Kian Kurokawa (now at Puget Sound), Kody Kaniho and Nic Fukunaga.
However, Hilo basketball’s loss is the baseball team’s gain, sending Carvalho to his second sport earlier than expected.
Carvalho’s hoops season ended after Konawaena defeated the Vikings 68-42 in the BIIF semifinals last Friday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
He’ll be ready to swing a bat and toss an inning or two at the Stanley Costales Sr./High High preseason tournament, which starts today at Wong Stadium.
The Vikings play Pac-5, from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, at 7:30 p.m. today in the feature game.
Carvalho was a mainstay at first base and had a .455 batting average with a .538 on-base clip and 15 RBIs to receive All-BIIF honorable mention last season.
As a sophomore, Carvalho sat out for baseball to concentrate on basketball. Last year, despite only a brief stint against Pahoa, the right-hander pitched like an ace in the BIIF Division I championship against Waiakea.
Though he bats as a southpaw and also shoots the basketball with his left arm, Carvalho’s right arm was working well enough to provide 4 1/3 scoreless relief innings as the Vikings outlasted the Warriors 8-5 in 11 innings in a rare Sunday game.
Saturday’s finale, the fifth straight between Hilo and Waiakea, was rained out. The two crosstown rivals have traded BIIF titles the last seven years. Kamehameha, now at Division II, won the championship in 2006.
One of the team’s biggest losses was speedster and run producer Chayce Kaaua (.320, .575 on-base, 11 runs), who’s at the University of Hawaii.
However, the lineup is still pretty stacked with a senior-laden nucleus with Carvalho, All-BIIF first team outfielder Carter (.594, .683 on-base), infielder Kaaukai, and outfielder Banasan.
Carter is still deciding whether to head to UH or take another scholarship from Central Arizona. Kaaukai and Banasan continued the BIIF-to-Luna College pipeline started by hitting coach Kaha Wong, who has helped land 10 players scholarships at the New Mexico school.
“We’re getting there, building as a team since we went to Leilehua’s tourney three weeks ago,” Carter said. “Our strength will probably be our speed and hitting. We’ve got young pitchers but if our defense holds up our pitching should be all right.
“Jalen will probably be our ace. He’s one of our leaders, too. I’m hoping to bring a lot of experience, how I play with the young kids taking that as an example.”
Carter, Banasan and Kaaukai all lift weights together. Carter concentrated on baseball during the offseason instead of going out for basketball. The time spent with his two pals served him well.
“I got stronger from my freshman year,” he said. “I weighed 145 pounds. I’m 170 now. My strength helps in everything, to run faster, throw harder and hit with more power.”
He’ll likely get a shot as the closer. Carter throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. Jordan Tagawa, a valuable reliever, had shoulder surgery and the only other experienced pitcher is senior Conrad Kauffman.
“Kuro was a big pitcher for us and Tags said he’s trying to come back by midseason,” Banasan said. “Most of us have experience. We’ve been to states as sophomores (third place in 2012). We’ve played in states and on TV. We know how intense it can be.
“Jalen is looking good. He’ll be a big part, hitting and pitching. We’re lucky to have him. I just want to make it to states. I want to play at Les Murakami Stadium again. I’ll do anything to play there again. We’ve got to work hard.”
The preseason gives Hilo coach Tony DeSa a chance to experiment and grade his new starters, including sophomore catcher Josh Breitbarth, junior outfielder Noah Serrao and sophomore outfielder Noah Higa-Gonsalves, the younger brother of Tyler Higa-Gonsalves, a 2013 graduate and now at Luna College.
Also, all of the BIIF schools that qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament are in the eight-team field: Waiakea and Division II members Kamehameha and Konawaena.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. Our pitching is something we have to grow into,” DeSa said. “Jalen is going to be huge for us and log important innings.
“We’re looking for competitive games and how our younger guys step up when given opportunities to play. We want to see what they can do.”
At Wong Stadium
Honokaa vs. Konawaena, 11:30 a.m.
Kealakehe vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 2 p.m.
Leilehua vs. Waiakea, 4:30 p.m.
Pac-5 vs. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
Honokaa-Konawaena winner vs. Pac-5-Hilo winner, 3 p.m.
Kealakehe-Kamehameha-Hawaii winner vs. Leilehua-Waiakea winner, 6 p.m.
Kealakehe-Kamehameha-Hawaii loser vs. Leilehua-Waiakea loser, 10 a.m.
Honokaa-Konawaena loser vs. Pac-5-Hilo loser, 12:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 4:30 p.m.
Semifnal losers, 2 p.m.
Consolation winners, 11:30 a.m.
Consolation winners, 9 a.m.