Although the University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors baseball team used a big-hitting offensive showcase to race out to an early advantage in the finale at UH-Hilo on Sunday, the defense was tested and prevailed as it held off a late scoring barrage from the Vulcans for the 11-9 victory, splitting the road trip.
After suffering a two-hit shutout in the opener, the Rainbow Warriors made it abundantly clear early that the offense was headed in a different direction on Sunday, initiated by a second-pitch leadoff triple from senior center fielder Matt LoCoco deep into right center, setting up and early 1-0 UH lead, as sophomore first baseman placed an RBI single into left center.
With two runners aboard, senior designated hitter Alex Sawelson expanded the advantage, lining a two-out, two-run single into shallow center. Sophomore third baseman Johnny Weeks tacked on another with an RBI single up the middle, scratching Sawelson across from second base. The four-run opening made a quick ending to the day for starter David Moody, pulled in favor of left-hander Jordan Kumasaka, who collected the final out.
UH put runners aboard over the next two innings, but to no avail. Making his collegiate debut, freshman catcher Kekai Rios broke up the scoring slump and got the Rainbow Warriors started in the fourth, leading off with a single. Senior shortstop Sheldon-Collins notched two in scoring position with a double down the right field line. With the table set, Ramirez again capitalized, bringing home both runners on a single down the left field line, expanding the lead to 6-0.
Opening with a seven-pitch first inning, senior starter Kyle Von Ruden was rolling early, retiring the first 11 batters faced. Second baseman Jacob Grijalva finally got aboard in the fourth on a shallow single to left field. Third baseman Nate Green made the strike worthwhile, singling up the middle for a lone run after Grijalva advanced on a wild pitch.
Hawai’i was quick to answer, sparked by redshirt senior right fielder Alan Baldwin, reaching base for the third time on a single to center field. Stealing second to move over, sophomore catcher Chayce Ka’aua rebuilt the lead with an RBI single to center field in his first at-bat of the day, replacing Rios in the fourth.
Stealing second to reach scoring position, Ka’aua was quick to come home, as senior shortstop Jacob Sheldon-Collins lined an RBI single into right field, growing the lead to 8-1.
Despite the seven-run deficit, the Vulcans refused to yield, firing off a four-run fifth inning against Von Ruden, jumpstarted by a Phillip Steering leadoff double and subsequent RBI from Michael Jenkerson, Jonathan Segovia and Grijalva.
Making their push back into the game, the Vulcans continued to give fits for the UH Bullpen in the seventh and eighth, with additional RBI for Grijalva, Green, Kyle Yamada and a Sean Nearhoof score on a wild pitch, trimming the Rainbow Warrior advantage to 11-9 after the eighth inning.
Although no ‘Bows scored in the final frame, Ka’uau, LoCoco and Sawelson scores in the seventh and eighth proved enough, as senior reliever Cody Culp shut down the Vulcans in order in the final frame, securing the save and the 11-9 victory.
Von Ruden (1-0) earns the win, pitching five complete innings with six hits and five runs allowed, walking none and striking out one. For UH-Hilo, Daniel Moody (0-1) takes the loss after allowing four runs in his 0.2 innings pitched.
At the plate, Hawai’i was hot, securing 20 hits for only the second time in the past five seasons. All 10 position players appearing for UH secured a hit, with seven registering multi-hit performances. Leading the charge was Sheldon-Collins, who hit a career-high 4-for-6 with a run and an RBI. Leading the scoring push, Ramirez logged three RBI on 2-for-5 hitting. Ka’aua went 3-for-3 with two doubles, recording two runs and one RBI.
The Rainbow Warriors are 1-1 on the season after the trip to the Big Island, opening up at home with a four-game set next week against Mountain West foe New Mexico, Feb. 19-22, at Les Murakami Stadium.