Hawai’i baseball a step ahead of HPU in 10-1 non-conference bounce back victory

BY MICHAEL LASQUERO | HSRN
PUBLISHED APRIL 2, 2024

HONOLULU — One team got back in the win column.

The other gained an invaluable experience that should pay dividends in the long run.

The University of Hawai’i baseball team bested visiting Hawai’i Pacific, 10-1, in a non-conference matchup at Les Murakami Stadium on a windy and wet Tuesday night.

The Rainbow Warriors got a much-needed win after getting swept by UC-Irvine last weekend to improve to 16-10 before a seven-game road trip over the next two weeks.

“We never lost confidence in our guys, we just knew that our time was coming,” said Jake Tsukada, who hit a solo home run to give the ‘Bows a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.

Hawai’i tallied 15 total hits in the win and used nine different pitchers to fuel its victory. Leadoff hitter Jordan Donahue and Tsukada had three hits apiece in the victory. Tsukada was also solid all-around as the designated hitter with three RBIs and three runs scored.

The Sharks (19-16) — who plays collegiately on the Division II level — had their opportunities to limit the ‘Bows, but Hawai’i was a step ahead on the base paths.

Donahue led off the bottom of the first inning with a single after beating the throw to first by HPU starting pitcher Jordan Otjen. After Tsukada’s first hit of the night, Matthew Miura loaded the bases on a bunt single after getting confirmation that he beat the throw by the replay officials. This led to a 2-0 Hawai’i lead after the first inning.

Later in the sixth inning the Sharks tried to get a runner out at home after Tsukada grounded into a fielder’s choice at second base, but Elijah Ickes was able to beat the throw to make it a 6-1 game. Hawai’i scored another run in the inning after HPU could not turn the double play in time to negate the score.

“Speed kills. It comes to the ballpark everyday,” said Hawai’i coach Rich Hill.

The Hawai’i pitching staff also combined for eight strikeouts as the ‘Bows stranded 12 HPU runners on the base paths.

“I thought we came ready to go. Couple of hits in the first inning didn’t go our way, just bang bang plays that ultimately their speed kinda took over there,” said HPU coach Dane Fujinaka.

“Our pitchers did a good job of keeping us in the game. Offensively we left a lot of guys on base but had really good at bats with two outs early in the game, just couldn’t get those hits to fall. I think those hits fall, it’s a little bit different ball game in the middle of that game there, but I’m proud of our guys. I thought we competed well today.”

The Sharks’ lone run came on a squeeze bunt by Noah Hata to score Skylar Agnew in the top of the fourth to make the score 4-1. Agnew reached in the inning with a double, the only HPU hit of the game that went for extra bases.

Even though his squad took the loss, Fujinaka knows that playing an opponent on a higher tier will help his team get better.

“They forced us to make quality pitches with two strikes, faced us to make quality pitches with guys on base. Ultimately, that’s the difference. They were able to capitalize on those moments,” said Fujinaka.

“We obviously need to be better at that and I truly think that we got better all around as a baseball club tonight. You’re going to do that playing good teams like the University of Hawai’i. They’re solid all around defensively, pitching, offensively. They’re going to make you earn everything. I love the way we competed tonight and I think we definitely got better.”

It was the first of three games against the Division II squads in the state for the ‘Bows. They will take on Chaminade on April 16 and Hawai’i-Hilo on April 30. Hill said the game against the Sharks was also beneficial for his squad before its road series against conference foe UC-Davis.

“These teams are very scary. They’ve got some athleticism,” said Hill. “I really like their lineup, one through nine. You never know about the pitching mid week, who’s doing what, who they’re saving, etc., but it’s a very well-coached team. This is super beneficiary for us to play a quality team before an important Big West series.”

Harrison Bodendorf, one of six left-handed pitchers that saw mound time for Hawai’i, was credited for his first win of the season. Otjen (2-3) took the loss for the Sharks.

Cory Ronan was the most effective pitcher for the ‘Bows with a scintillating second inning when he retired the side with just eight pitches.

“I like what Cory Ronen did,” said Hill. “He’s really been biding his time and working extremely hard.”

Hawai’i also needed to reshuffle the lineup a bit with designated hitter Austin Machado out with an illness. This saw Tsukada take the DH role while the rest of the order moved up a notch with Machado out. Ben Ziegler-Namoa was the cleanup hitter against HPU and drove in the first run of the game.

Kyson Donahue was also solid with two hits and an RBI in the heart of the order while Jake Quandt made the most of his opportunities starting in right field with a triple and a double in his first two at bats.

“I like Ben in that four-hole incase he leads off. He’s gotten so many walks, his on base percentage is so good, you know he’s going to put his bat on the ball,” said Hill.

“Kyson has really started to emerge as well so you want him in that RBI situation. Quandt was an emergency guy. We called that hit-and-run early in the game. I just wanted him to swing the bat. When he’s aggressive he’s much better.”

Mac Leisher logged the most innings pitched for the Sharks with three.

Chase Taylor and Kota Suzuki each had two hits to lead HPU in the loss.

The Sharks will return back to the Les Murakami on Sunday against UH-Hilo for a PacWest double-header. The first matchup is slated for 3:00 p.m.

“Honestly this was huge, being able to play here and get used to the park before conference play starts up again on Sunday against Hilo,” said Fujinaka.

“As you can see, the wind was crazy today. That was wild. I don’t remember the wind ever being like that, but it’s huge for our guys to be able to get comfortable at this park, playing on turf with this wind, it was huge. I think our guys got a little bit more comfortable today. Excited to get back after it on Sunday.”