'Bows win regional opener, 4-3
By JACK MAGRUDER
Special to The Advertiser
TEMPE, Ariz. — Hawai'i is starting to look right at home here. Maybe the real home team, NCAA regional host Arizona State, should start to worry.
On Day 11 of their Arizona retreat, the No. 3 seed Rainbows overcame a two-run deficit against one of the top pitchers in the nation and broke a tie in the ninth inning to beat San Diego, 4-3, yesterday in their first NCAA game since 2006.
Hawai'i (34-26) will play Arizona State (48-8) today at 4 p.m. Hawai'i time. The Sun Devils beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 6-2, in yesterday's other opening-round game.
Pi'ikea Kitamura took one for the team, literally, to drive in the go-ahead run. The freshman third baseman was hit in the left ear on a 1-2 fastball with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth to break a tie that closer Lenny Linsky (4-0) preserved with a 1-2-3 inning.
After Sean Montplaisir doubled into the right-field corner and Kevin Macdonald was hit by a pitch with one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Christian Johnson — making his first appearance since April 17 after recovering from a shoulder injury — grounded out to move the runners to second and third.
San Diego intentionally walked Rainbow leadoff man Kolten Wong, the Western Athletic Conference tournament MVP and the hottest Hawai'i hitter, to bring up Kitamura.
"We were going to walk Wong if there were runners on first and second, how's that?" San Diego coach Rich Hill said.
"That's how much we respect Kolten. At that time, we said Pi'ikea was going to be the guy to beat us."
Kitamura, who also made the defensive play of the game when he caught a foul pop in the sixth inning while falling into the San Diego dugout, was glad to oblige.
"I'm pretty much used to it," said Kitamura, who followed Wong after four intentional walks in the WAC tournament, which the Rainbows won Sunday at Mesa's HoHoKam Park, about 10 miles from the Arizona State campus.
"In that at-bat, I wasn't going to let him strike me out," Kitamura said of reliever Matt Thompson (1-3). "I just try to stay aggressive and stay with my game plan. Not try to do anything different. I take what they give me and do something small to get the run in."
Hawai'i coach Mike Trapasso surmised: "He has an ear for the game."
The Rainbows have been in the Phoenix area since the day before the WAC tournament began May 26, going 4-1 in that tournament. They have won 13 of their last 18 and are 2-0 against the Toreros (36-21) this season, posting an 8-6 victory in San Diego on March 29.
They took a day off after the WAC tournament and worked out at HoHoKam Park for a couple of days, taking batting practice. Their travel day consisted of a 10-minute bus ride from their WAC hotel in Mesa to their current hotel in Old Town Tempe.
"We're just trying to keep the same game plan we had in the WAC," Kitamura said.
David Freitas, the WAC all-tournament catcher, hit a two-run homer off San Diego starter Kyle Blair to tie the score 2-2 in the sixth, and Jeffrey Van Doornum's one-out solo shot in the eighth made it 3-2.
Freitas became the 25th player to homer over the 30-foot batter's eye in center field, according to ASU research, a list that includes Barry Bonds. Blair, 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA entering the game, is expected to be picked no later than the second round of the major league draft next week.
The Toreros tied it with an unearned run in the last of the eighth on a two-out error by second baseman Wong. But Linsky got out of a first-and-third, two-out situation by inducing Bryan Haar to hit a comebacker, setting up the winning ninth.
"It's about picking each other up," Trapasso said.
Right-hander Matt Sisto, the Rainbows' nominal No. 3 starter, had another strong outing, his fifth in a row down the stretch. He beat Fresno State, 11-3, in the third round of the WAC tournament May 28.
Sisto gave up eight hits, the only damaging blow a two-run home run by Mike Ferraro in the second that was helped over the right-field fence at Packard Stadium by a prevailing wind that blew out to right. He struck out four and did not issue a walk.
"I kind of got back in rhythm," Sisto said. "I used the changeup again. I hadn't thrown a slider in two weeks, but I found it in the fifth inning."
Sisto has given up only seven earned runs in his last 28 1/3 innings, a 2.22 ERA, while giving up 27 hits and five walks with 21 strikeouts.
"He's becoming a big-game pitcher for us," Trapasso said.