WAILUKU - The names from the past still resonate, and Chase Corniel knows it.
Corniel is the catcher-manager for Maui AJA Baseball champion Daimyo and will lead the Valley Isle nine in the 77th annual state tournament this weekend at Maehara Stadium, a facility named for one of those historic stars - Iron Maehara was Most Valuable Player for the Maui AJA League in 1947.
Maui's search for just its fifth title will begin with today's 10 a.m. semifinal against Kauai. The opening ceremony will follow and Oahu will face the Big Island at approximately 1:30 p.m.
Kalaika Kahoohalahala, shown pitching for Daimyo last year, will try to help Maui win its sixth AJA state championship this weekend.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Sunday's third-place game will be at 9 a.m., and the championship contest is set for 11:30.
Maui won the tournament the last time it was the host, in 2008.
"Definitely, we love this event because we know a lot of generations played this game, a lot of tradition," Corniel said. "Yeah, it's a Japanese league, but at the same (time), too, it is about tradition, it is about America's pastime - baseball - passed down from generation to generation.
"My father played AJA and he forced me to play AJA in high school from day one. He knew that it was a good tool, any high school kid that can play AJA, it is a good tool for them to develop."
The league's previous standouts range from Maehara to current Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino.
Maehara excelled against U.S. military teams in his prime before becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers - he often wore a 1988 World Series ring that the Dodgers bestowed upon him largely for signing Sid Fernandez out of Kaiser High School in 1983.
Most of this year's Maui roster has college experience, from Van Delos Santos, a former Washington State star, to Gered Mochizuki, an infielder for Na Koa Ikaika Maui who played at Central Missouri.
Allen Castro, one of several former Maui High players on the team, will get the first call on the mound.
Maui High coach Lee Yonamine will manage this weekend so Corniel can concentrate on catching. Former Sabers pitching coach Dean Yamashita, who excelled at Cal State-Fullerton, will assist Yonamine.
Corniel, a 1998 Maui High graduate and current assistant coach for the Sabers, played at Laney Junior College in Oakland, Calif., for coach Carl Fraticelli, now a University of Hawaii assistant coach.
"Basically all the guys on our roster played for coach Lee at some point," Corniel said. "The list goes on and on. To have him coaching for us is awesome. We are only getting older and it is special."
Maui's roster also includes Kalaika Kahoohalahala, a 2006 Maui High graduate who played in three games for Na Koa last season in the North American League and has signed with the NAL's Yuma, Ariz., franchise for 2012.
Kahoohalahala learned the game from his grandfather Moody Kahoohalahala, who will be in the stands this morning to watch his grandson start in center field.
"I am ready to do anything for this team, pitch, whatever - this is a big thing to guys like my grandfather," said Kalaika Kahoohalahala, a former standout pitcher for Maui High who went on to play for Yavapai (Ariz.) Junior College.
Another possible pitcher for Maui is Alika Aheong, the youngest player on the team and a 2010 Maui Interscholastic League All-Star for Maui High before playing one season at Monterrey Peninsula (Calif.) Junior College.
"This is very special, in front of our home crowd here on Maui," Aheong said. "It will be good, especially since this is my first time playing in the state tournament. I watched the last one when they won and that was awesome."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org