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Souza hopeful for one more season with Bears

Two-sport standout settles on baseball for college, headed to Cal Lutheran

Baldwin High School’s Isaiah Souza rushes during the first quarter of an MIL game against Lahainaluna on Aug. 31, 2019. Souza, a two-sport standout for the Bears, plans to play baseball at NCAA Division III powerhouse California Lutheran University. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Isaiah Souza has played for two world championship youth baseball teams in the last five years, but it is a possible season immediately ahead that he longs to play.

The two-sport standout for Baldwin High School is a senior who has his fingers crossed that his final go-round in the maroon and baby blue will commence soon.

Also a standout on the football field and in the classroom, he has chosen to play baseball in college at NCAA Division III powerhouse California Lutheran University.

“I did a lot of research on colleges — it’s really hard for recruitment during this pandemic,” Souza, who turned down a football opportunity at Pacific Lutheran, said on Wednesday. “I was talking to the baseball coach at Cal Lutheran and I just went up to visit the campus and did a tour. Man, it was a beautiful place, a great program, education and the baseball program. … I felt at home there.”

His senior football season was officially wiped out when the Maui Interscholastic League announced the cancellation of fall and winter sports seasons in early January due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baldwin’s Isaiah Souza follows through on a third-inning single during a preseason game against Iolani on Feb. 28, 2019. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He was a first-team MIL football All-Star at running back in 2019 as a junior.

“Isaiah is one guy that we were counting on in a big way this year,” Baldwin football coach Pohai Lee said. “COVID-19 affects everybody, but he’s one that has a positive outlook on whatever he is doing. I would start with that, he has great values. He was one kid that I never had to worry about.”

Souza carries a 4.0 grade-point average at Baldwin and has taken a class for three semesters at University of Hawaii-Maui College, in math (pre-calculus and trigonometry), and psychology. He currently has three Advanced Placement classes at Baldwin after taking one last year.

“He’s the last of our seniors who hadn’t committed yet,” Baldwin baseball coach Craig Okita said. “So I’ve been pretty curious to see where he would go. He’s definitely a very smart person and an ideal student-athlete. To have all those college classes, I’m pretty sure his GPA is above or at 4.0.

“He’s very driven, he knows what he wants to do, what he needs to take care of to give himself opportunities down the road and he’s been able to do that.”

Other Baldwin senior baseball players who have committed to play in college, according to Okita, include: Ben Zeigler-Namoa (Yavapai College in Arizona), Dylan Waite (Clarke University in Iowa), Isaiah’s cousin Lee Souza (Yakima Valley College in Washington), and Danelle Daniels (Butte College in California).

The MIL is working to get the spring seasons played after those seasons were the first to be canceled in March 2020.

“Man, it was definitely a bummer to miss football and even last year’s spring season in baseball,” Souza said. “I really look forward to just playing, definitely looking forward to get on this baseball season, hopeful that it will happen.

“It would just be exciting to have that, especially with all these things being canceled, we really look forward to at least playing baseball for our last time in high school.”

Okita coached both of the world championship teams that Souza played on, and he is still hopeful that a high school season can be played soon. Baldwin is set to start welcoming students back to campus on March 9.

“If you told me a year ago that we’d all be sitting at home in this situation right now, I’d say you’re absolutely crazy,” Okita said. “But I’ve got nothing else to hold on to besides hope at this point, so we’re trying to do what we can. …. We’re just standing by hoping to get good news.”

The Bears said goodbye to several standout senior baseball players last season, many of whom are now playing at the college level. They were ranked second in the state by scoringlive.com when play was halted in mid-March 2020 and, including Souza, the Bears had 15 players on the roster with youth world championships under their belts.

“I definitely believe that we had a great chance of bringing home that koa-wood (state championship trophy),” Souza said. “I still believe we have a great chance of winning the state championship again.”

No matter what happens, Souza is proud to be a part of the Baldwin baseball program that owns six Hawaii High School Athletic Association state crowns, most recently winning in 2016 and 2018.

“The community of Baldwin baseball, everybody is just like one family,” Souza said. “I think that plays a big role in how we do during the season as well as the state tournament.”

He won Little League world championships in 2016 at the Intermediate (12-13) level and in 2019 at the Senior League (15-16) level. He was also on a team that advanced to the 2018 SLWS.

“Man, it was definitely a great feeling, especially that first World Series,” Souza said of winning world championships. “It was such a surreal feeling, we just worked super hard to get there and when we got there it was just like another game. Even in the championship game, it was just like another game playing baseball.”

He knows the recent spate of success for Maui teams on World Series stages is special. Souza listed several baseball coaches who have helped him along the way since he started playing the game as a 5-year-old, including Okita, Dean Yamashita, Shane Dudoit, Shane Awai, Leo Tomita, Mo Higa, Aaron Loque, Jamie Aloy, Joey Tam Ho and Milton Kaha.

“Man, it just says a lot about the talent in Maui and how we run things,” Souza said. “We have a lot of great talent on Maui. … I’m just thankful to every coach who helped me get to where I am now.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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