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Hiura sending a powerful message

Posted: May 10, 2014 7:56 p.m.
Updated: May 10, 2014 7:56 p.m.

Keston Hiura's explosive play has pushed Valencia's off-field problems into the background.

 

In a very trying season for the Valencia baseball program, Keston Hiura has been a very welcomed story.

On March 21, Valencia head baseball coach Jared Snyder took a leave of absence due to a situation that appears to be of a financial and ethical nature.

Since that time, the Vikings are 8-3 in Foothill League play and the senior shortstop, a 4.0-GPA student and a well-liked kid, has lifted the Vikings into Foothill title contention with the kind of season you just don’t see anymore in high school baseball.

Take it from a rival coach who once coached in the Valencia High program — Hiura is something else.

“He’s the best hitter ever in Valencia baseball lore,” said Saugus head coach John Maggiora. “He’s better than (Valencia’s all-time single season batting average leader Matt) Aidem and (Jared) Clark (who is second on Valencia’s career home run list). And I love those guys like brothers. Keston is the most complete hitter I’ve seen.”

Hiura is tied for sixth in the nation with 12 home runs (with two two home-run games in the last two weeks) and has a slugging percentage of 1.049.

To get all sabermetric on you, his Isolated Power (ISO — a measure of a player’s extra base hits per at bat) is .568 — meaning nearly 60 percent of his hits have been extra bases.

“Growing up, I had my fair share of home runs, but once I reached high school, I never hit home runs. I was an average guy, making solid contact,” Hiura says. “It came out of nowhere. I stuck to my gameplan, haven’t changed my approach or swing. Just getting at it hard in the weight room. You hit it hard, good things will happen.”

Hiura had two varsity home runs in 218 combined plate appearances in his sophomore and junior seasons.

It wasn’t like Hiura was an also-ran.

With his ability to make contact and solid play in the middle infield, he drew the attention of colleges.

Before the season, he committed to UC Irvine.

Anteaters head coach Mike Gillespie, now 74 years old, might be dancing in the streets of Irvine right now knowing what Hiura has turned into.

“He is a kid who has unreal work ethic,” says Valencia interim head coach Mike Killinger. “He is just the most locked in hitter I’ve seen in a long time.” The fact that the right-handed hitter has hit for this much power (his last four home runs have traveled to dead center, some 360-feet plus away, left center and right center) is an anomaly.

The Foothill League leaders the last two seasons have ended the season with five and four home runs respectively.

In August of 2010, the CIF announced new bat standards for the state in response to head injuries caused by the speed of a ball coming off a metal bat.

The bats (BBCOR — Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution) lessen the force of a ball coming off a metal bat and thus, power numbers have dropped significantly across the state.

In 2011, the last season when composite-material bats could be used, the Foothill League leader in home runs had 11.

Killinger says it’s Hiura’s strong core that has been a reason for the uptick.

Hiura, who says his swing path hasn’t changed and his selectivity is mostly the same, had to think about why his power has increased for a minute.

He thinks it was the arrival of right fielder Chad Bible, who transferred to Valencia last season.

Bible is a sight — small waist, big shoulders, large biceps.

“There were definitely comments from all the classmates — ‘Who’s this new transfer? He’s huge. I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with him,’” Hiura says.

In Bible, Hiura found a teammate who was dedicated in the weight room and someone who could push him.

Hiura matched Bible’s work in the weight room prior to the 2014 season and he put on about 10 pounds to be at 180.

The Japanese-Chinese-American saw his numbers balloon.

He hit for the cycle on March 6 — the first game of the year.

Two days later, he hit two home runs.

Then the bottom fell out for Valencia when its head coach left.

“You can’t control what happened, what’s outside of yourself and the team,” Hiura says. “We’re focused on a goal to win a Foothill championship and make it all the way to a CIF championship. I don’t let other distractions or events affect the way I play or go about my business. I pick up all my teammates. You can’t control what’s going on.”

Killinger says in the past, Hiura didn’t say much.

However, Hiura told his teammates to put their heads down and work.

“It’s been a lot of things all at once. It’s been a tough time,” Killinger says. “He’s gone about his job and led by example. When you’re the best player and you’re able to not let things bother you, it means a lot.”

Hiura has now put his team, and himself, in a different situation.

The Vikings could win a league title. They’ve had debatable success in the postseason, but could change that this year. And Hiura is opening Major League Baseball scouts’ eyes.

He’s sending a powerful message.

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