HONOLULU – Trailing by six runs late in the game, the University of Hawai’i (11-8) baseball team came storming back to defeat Indiana (9-8-1) on a walk-off single by sophomore catcher Kekai Rios, dodging a series sweep in Saturday’s finale at Les Murakami Stadium.
The Hoosiers showed they were going to be a handful for the Rainbow Warriors early, opening with a second-batter Matt Gorski home run to left field, adding a second run in the second frame.
Designated hitter Ethan Lopez provided the answer for the early strike, bringing home Alex Fitchett in the bottom of the second with an RBI triple up the right center alley, trimming the deficit to a single run.
Following up, the Rainbow Warriors quickly grabbed the upper hand, as Dylan Vchulek led off the third with a single and came around to tie the game on a wild pitch. Adam Fogel and Fitchett followed with consecutive RBI doubles to push UH on top 4-2.
Another homer, this time from Logan Sowers in the fourth, sparked the Hoosiers to reclaim the lead in the fifth off a pair of RBI doubles from Gorski and Luke Miller for the 5-4 advantage. After taking over in the fourth, Indiana reliever Cal Krueger kept the Rainbow Warriors at bay for three crucial innings, allowing only two hits.
Finding some soft spots in the Hawai’i defense, the Hoosiers seemingly put the game out of reach for UH, firing off five runs in the top of the eighth to claim a 10-4 advantage.
The steep climb did not deter the ‘Bows, who proved they still had plenty of fight in this hotly-contested series. With Josh Rojas aboard via walk and Vchulek via single, Johnny Weeks lined an RBI single into right field, jumpstarting the largest Hawai’i rally of the year. Vchulek followed on Eric Ramirez‘ sacrifice fly.
The biggest shot of the season to date came from a perfectly-placed Fitchett bloop single, dropped between three converging fielders and permitting three runners to score on the play. After the dust settled, the ‘Bows had scored five of their own in the eighth, bringing the game to a 10-9 margin.
Vchulek again ignited the ‘Bows in the ninth. Facing two outs and a one-run deficit, the junior center fielder singled and moved to third on a Weeks single. A rare Indiana balk for a score knotted the game. Rios sealed the deal with a walk-off shot into the right center alley, bringing Weeks around for the game-winning run and the squad out of the dugout to intercept Rios in the basepath.
Hitting in double digits for the fourth straight game and ninth in the last 12, UH registered a season-high 16 hits. Vchulek led all batters, hitting 4-for-6 with three runs scored, while Weeks was 3-for-6 with three runs and an RBI, Rios was 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI. And topping the RBI marks, Fitchett tabbed a career-high four RBI and one run on a 3-for-4 hitting performance.
With the win, Hawai’i avoided the sweep in a series that every game featured a comeback, three were won by a single run and one went to extra innings. Indiana won the weekend 3-1.
The Rainbow Warriors return to action next week at home against San Jose State at Les Murakami Stadium, March 23-26. The Spartans are 8-9 and have a 2-0 series advantage on conference foe Nevada – who Hawai’i will face the following week at home.