FULLERTON, Calif. – The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors baseball squad (22-26, 11-11 Big West) jumped out early in the series opener at No. 18 Cal State Fullerton (32-18, 14-5 Big West) on Friday night at Goodwin Field, holding off the Titans for the first win in nine tries on the 6-3 victory before a national TV audience.
The Rainbow Warriors got going with some strikes from the underclassmen early against CSF starter Connor Seabold. Sophomore third baseman Johnny Weeks logged a one-out triple in the first, but it wasn’t cashed in. In the second, consecutive center field singles from freshmen Kekai Rios and Ethan Lopez set the stage.
Redshirt sophomore designated hitter Chayce Ka’aua granted UH the early lead with a second-inning RBI single to bring Rios home, and Josh Rojas capped off the two-run surge with a well-placed sacrifice squeeze bunt down the first base line to scratch Lopez across the dish.
The Titans were quick to grab one back, capitalizing on back-to-back singles in the home half, as Ruben Cardenas scored unearned on a sacrifice bunt, trimming the UH lead to a single run.
Rios added a second hit in the fourth and a second run to pair with it, scoring from second on a Rojas RBI double for the 3-1 advantage.
A quick response arrived from the Titans offense with a leadoff triple by Hank LoForte in the fifth, but starter Kyle Von Ruden and the ‘Bows were quick to stop the bleeding, allowing a lone run to stay out front 3-2.
After driving Seabold’s counts to oust him early, the ‘Bows generated a pair of base runners, setting up a double-steal score, as Rios cross the plate for the third time on a pickoff error. Facing right-handed reliever Miles Chambers, Ka’aua singled to make it two runners once again, then it was Matt LoCoco who was due for a clutch play. After striking out his first three times at bat, the senior center fielder hit a two-out, two-run triple to right center to blow the game out to a 6-2 lead.
With the three-run sixth inning, the ‘Bows tied the season high for runs scored against the Big West leader in conference play.
Once more, the Titans pushed back, but Von Ruden combined with Lawrence Chew to allow just a single run off of a Jake Pavletich RBI single, which sliced the UH lead to three runs.
Chew then teamed with closer Cody Culp to put away the final nine outs across the remaining three innings of action, giving only a single hit and striking out three. Culp (5) emerged with the save, securing the 5.2-inning, seven-hit win for Von Ruden (7-2). The right-handed senior starter had four strikeouts after not recording any in his last two starts.
Seabold (6-5) took the loss for CSF after a 5.1-inning outing, giving eight hits for five runs, two earned, while striking out eight with no walks.
Named the player of the game by the ESPN3 broadcast team, Rios went 3-for-4, scoring three of UH’s six runs. Meanwhile, Rojas was 1-for-3 with two RBI on the night and Ka’aua was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run, while Lopez scored twice off 1-for-4 hitting.
With his lone hit a key two-run triple, LoCoco becomes the fourth player since 2002 to record five triples in a season for the Rainbow Warriors.
UH’s series-opening win marks the first ‘Bows victory versus CSF since 2013. The ‘Bows and Titans return to action on Saturday night at Goodwin Field in another ESPN3-televised face-off.