Leading the squad is incoming NCAA Division II pitcher Josh Jones, who arrived on Saipan yesterday and is expected to participate in the team’s training sessions, starting this weekend. Joining Jones, who signed up for University of West Alabama last month, on the squad is fellow off-island player Jeremy “Tre” Rabauliman, 2006 gold medal team members Manny Sablan, Byron Kaipat, Tyrone Omar, Vince Cepeda, Ben Jones Jr, Jerome Delos Santos, and Roy Celis, young guns Ian Rogolifoi, Brian Camacho, Rocco Reyes, Jared Sablan, Diego Camacho, Jun Rabauliman, Peter Lieto, Joe Palacios, Jr. and Greg Iskawa, and Saipan Baseball League mainstays Anthony Benavente, Tom Camacho, Patrick Alepuyo, and Chris Camacho.
“The team is composed mostly of young and all-star caliber players who will be in the mix with several veteran players that have competed for the CNMI internationally. These all-star players have demonstrated outstanding performance during the regular season of the Saipan Baseball League,” said Rogolifoi, who will call the shots for the team with the help of coach and former CNMI team member Mel Sakisat Sr.
Rogolifoi and company hope to bring the gold medal back to the CNMI, which lost to Palau in the 2010 Micronesian Games that the latter hosted. To do this, the team manager said the Commonwealth bets have to show impressive pitching in Pohnpei, which will host the regional competition from July 20 to 30.
“I believe that the key to winning games is good pitching and we do have great pitchers that are capable of leading the national team to the medal round,” Rogolifoi said.
The latest addition of Jones and Jeremy Rabauliman to the squad is a big boost to the CNMI’s stock of pitchers and they will be alternating with Cepeda, Lieto, Palacios, Tom Camacho, Benavente, and Celis. At home plate, Manny Sablan is the man, while Alepuyo will back him up.
“Tre Rabauliman and CNMI’s pitching sensation Josh Jones are back and their presence will further solidify our pitching rotation. They have to be focused and be consistent on their delivery and with excellent defense, we should be okay. Pitching should be our strength at these games,” the team manager added.
As for the squad’s offense, Rogolifoi will rely on his power hitters, including his son Ian. Others who are expected to be on target at-bat for the Commonwealth are Brian Camacho, Reyes, Jared Sablan, Diego Camacho, Jun Rabauliman, and Iskawa.
The CNMI players—except Tre Rabauliman and Jones—have been practicing since early May and are expected to peak in time for the competition in Pohnpei.
“We have been going through a variety of drills, i.e. cutoffs and relays, double plays, pitching coverage, pitcher’s pre-game routine, run downs, hitting to the pull and push side of the ball-field, sacrifice, drag, push, and suicide squeeze bunts, and a whole lot of drills. The team also runs four miles a week to work on their cardio. They should be well prepared when we get there,” Rogolifoi said.
With a lot of young players on its roster, Rogolifoi said the CNMI’s speed will work both for the squad’s offense and defense.
“The CNMI bets must also rely on their speed around the diamond, timely hitting, and discipline at the plate to get ahead of the ball game and I have confidence and trust that our defense will cover their positions well throughout the tournament. If we can keep the errors to a minimum, we should be able to win games,” said Rogolifoi.
When asked which teams could give the CNMI a tough time in the medal round, Rogolifoi picked Guam and Palau, but cautioned his wards not to take other squads lightly.
“Defending champion Palau and Guam are probably aiming for the gold medal so we should prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead. And of course, let’s not forget the home team Pohnpei. The host team will do their very best to win their first Micro Games title. Kosrae should also be considered a threat,” the CNMI Sports Hall of Famer said.
“I don’t predict to win over any particular team but I do believe in my players’ individual skills, and if they perform to the best of their ability, both on the defensive and offensive ends, we will prevail,” Rogolifoi added.