Wong powers Hawaii
By Jack Magruder
Special to The Honolulu Advertiser
MESA, Ariz. — Two outs, one run down, one man on, game on the line.
It puts an exclamation point on the kind of at-bats Kolten Wong relishes.
"You are not a baseball player if you don't live for those situations," Wong said.
Wong's first career walkoff homer could not have come at a better time. His two-out, two-run blast over the bullpen behind the right-field fence gave Hawai'i an 8-7, 10-inning victory over Louisiana Tech yesterday in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament at HoHoKam Park.
It was Wong's second two-out, two-run homer of the game — his first capped a four-run eighth-inning rally to tie the score at 6.
"It's an awesome feeling. I'm just trying to take it all in. I'm happy I did what I could do to help the team," Wong said.
"He's the guy our whole state of Hawai'i would want him up in that situation," coach Mike Trapasso said.
After Louisiana Tech scored in the top of the 10th, Kevin Macdonald reached on a one-out error before Matt Roquemore beat out a potential double play grounder to bring up Wong.
Wong's walkoff sent the No. 4 seed Rainbows (30-25) into the winners' bracket against No. 2 seed New Mexico State, 1 p.m. HST today.
Also yesterday, No. 6 seed San Jose State beat No. 3 seed Nevada, 6-0. The Spartans will play top seed Fresno State in the other winners' bracket game. Nevada and Louisiana Tech will play an elimination game earlier today.
It was a bit of a d[0xe9]j[0xe0] vu for the Rainbows, who won the most recent extra-inning game in the WAC tournament, eliminating Nevada in 10 innings last year.
The Rainbows, who have won 12 of their past 19 games, gave up five unearned runs while falling behind 6-2 before Wong capped the eighth inning with a homer to about the same spot, over the bullpen in right field.
"This group never believes it is out of a game," Trapasso said. "They've got confidence. They believe in each other. They love each other. It is about getting the right guy up at the right time, and we were able to do it."
Wong has been Mr. Right recently — he had 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats in the regular season, and he had a homer, three doubles and six RBIs as the Rainbows took three of four at San Jose State last weekend. He entered the tournament hitting .352 with four homers and 32 RBIs.
"He delivers when we ask him to," said right-hander Lenny Linsky (3-0), who pitched the last 2 2/3 innings.
Hawai'i starter Josh Slaats gave up seven hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings, all the runs scoring after an infield error opened a three-run sixth inning as Louisiana Tech took a 3-2 lead.
The Bulldogs (27-29) made it 6-2 with a three-run eighth. Clint Stubbs doubled in one run before an intentional walk loaded the bases. Then Ashton Hughes hit a comebacker to Linsky, whose left foot slipped as he planted to throw to the plate. The errant throw allowed two runs to score, but Linsky avoided further trouble on two short fly balls.
"Our team — we fight, we're tough, no matter how many runs we are down," Linsky said. "I was (upset) after it happened, but I just wanted to get the next batters. Those add-on runs will kill you."
Greg Garcia opened the eighth with a triple into the right-field corner and Sean Montplaisir doubled in a run with one out. Macdonald singled to put runners on the corners and Roquemore reached on an RBI fielder's choice, bringing up Wong.
"Giving him a chance to come up in big spots is important. We want him up in big spots. He finds a way to barrel the ball," said Roquemore, who threw out a runner at the plate attempting to tag from third base in the third.