7 seniors bow out in home farewell
• Photo gallery: Hawaii-New Mexico State baseball finale
BY Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
Although Hawai'i could not send off its seven seniors with a win in its final homestand, the Rainbows leave for their final road trip of the season with high hopes.
New Mexico State combined for nine runs in the fifth and sixth innings and held off Hawai'i's late threats in a 10-7 win yesterday at Les Murakami Stadium. The Rainbows (26-23 overall, 9-11 WAC) still won their first Western Athletic Conference series, 3-1, against the second-place Aggies (36-19-1, 14-9-1), who snapped a seven-game losing skid to end their WAC schedule.
"We're competing," UH junior shortstop Greg Garcia said. "I wish we could've sent our seniors off a little bit better than that, but we competed today, New Mexico State competed and it's one of those things where they came out on top. But all our guys played all nine innings hard. It was just a tough ball game."
"We're playing well," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "Those middle innings hurt us. We gave up nine in two (innings), but after the first through six innings, we scored only one ... But we never let up. We're playing better, we're executing on offense, moving runners and making things happen.
"If we can continue to pitch like (Friday's doubleheader sweep), we'll keep playing well."
An enthusiastic crowd of 3,123 hoped to see a comeback like Thursday's series opener, which UH came from an 8-3 deficit to an 11-10 win in the bottom of the 10th inning. It was the third largest turnout this season and the third declared sellout based on the 4,513 tickets issued.
After serving up a lead-off home run on the first pitch of the game to Nate Shaver, Connor Little retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced and had a 4-1 lead after four.
But things fell apart in the fifth after a controversial hit batsman on Wade Reynoso on a pitch that appeared on TV replays to foul off the knob of the bat. With Garcia shaded toward second in double play depth, Parker Hipp singled to the hole where Garcia would've been positioned with no runner on first. It was the first of five consecutive hits off Little in the five-run fifth.
After Ryan Aguayo's RBI single made it 6-4, Little threw two pickoff attempts, but balked when he went to the plate, although he did not release the ball for an obvious balk.
"We were just calling pickoffs and Connor sees the wrong sign, so he throws a pitch and he didn't have a pitch," Trapasso said, managing a laugh. "That was a total cluster."
Little (2-1) was charged with six runs in four-plus innings.
"Connor had bad luck, really. Until Shaver hit his (double in the fifth), they didn't hit a ball hard. But (the Aggies) did a nice job hitting balls where we weren't."
The Aggies — who entered the series with 100 home runs, in part to their home-run friendly park — adjusted to UH's pitcher's park throughout the series. Of their 39 hits in the series, only two were homers.
Although Blair Walters finished the fifth inning without further damage, he could not stop the bleeding in the four-run sixth, when a bunt single, flare single and walk were cashed in with a sacrifice fly by Shaver, run-scoring single by Aguayo and two-run triple by Leo Aguirre to make it 10-4.
The Rainbows shaved their deficit to 10-7 in the eighth on bases-loaded walks to Pi'ikea Kitamura and Jeffrey Van Doornum and an RBI single by Garcia.
Shaver paced the Aggies' 12-hit attack by batting 2 for 4 with four RBIs.
Aggies starter Ryan Beck (3-0) minimized damage despite giving up four runs on six hits and seven walks in 5 1/3 innings. He loaded the bases with three walks in the sixth, but relief pitcher Alex Heredia bailed him out by getting Kitamura to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Steven Anderson allowed a single in a scoreless ninth for his third save.
The Rainbows honored their seven seniors after the game. Bowing out for the home fans for the last time were outfielders Christian Johnson and Matt Roquemore, infielders Josh Chevalier and Kevin Macdonald, catcher Kevin Fujii and pitchers Nate Klein and Harrison Kuroda.
Kuroda, a sixth-year senior who sat out two seasons because of a shoulder injury, had the honor of conducting pregame infield, a job usually done by hitting coach Keith Komeiji.
"I was nervous, but it was fun," Kuroda said. "It was something that I always joke around with Coach Meij that I wanted to do before a game."
Kuroda said before the game, Komeiji called him and said, "Go hit infield."
He got a rave review from Garcia.
"Harry is one of the best fungo hitters in the world," Garcia said. "Serious. I've never seen a guy hit a better ground ball. It was great fun. I think he enjoyed it a lot."
The Rainbows leave today for a non-conference game at No. 25 Stanford, 2:30 p.m., Hawai'i time, tomorrow at Sunken Diamond. They remain in the Bay Area to conclude their WAC regular season with a four-game series at San Jose State starting Friday. A UH victory or a Sacramento State loss at Fresno State will give the Rainbows a spot in the six-team WAC tournament.