Hawai’i poses together as a team following the 37th win of the year, the most for the program since 2006. The ‘Bows beat Cal State Fullerton, 5-2, on Senior Night before celebrating 14 seniors on the UH roster. | Photo Credit, Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Sizzling Hawai’i finishes sweep of Cal State Fullerton in front of full house

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 25, 2024

HONOLULU – Did they do enough? 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (37-16, 20-10 Big West) finished up the regular season with a series sweep of Cal State Fullerton (16-38, 7-23 Big West) on Saturday, rallying past the Titans for a 5-2 win on Senior Night in front of 4,763 fans at Les Murakami Stadium – the most for a single BaseBows game since 1994. 

The victory was the ‘Bows 18th win in the last 20 contests and completed a scorching hot final three months of the regular season for Hawai’i, who lost only two series in total since the end of February and won six consecutive series against Division I opponents to close the year. At the mercy of the selection committee for a spot in the NCAA Regional round, Hawai’i’s chances may rest on the imperfect – yet typically effective – ranking system called “RPI” that currently has the ‘Bows looking from the outside of the tournament field. 

Despite murky waters on a potential bid to continue playing, the Rainbow Warriors continued a commitment to each other on what they have focused on all season: simply controlling what the team can control. 

Needing every win possible, Saturday’s contest still meant plenty to the overall record for the Rainbow Warriors as head coach Rich Hill gave senior southpaw Connor Harrison the nod for the Senior Day start on the mound. Earlier in the week, Harrison told the media that he expected an emotional weekend but would focus on trying to remain in the moment and staying locked in despite the extracurriculars that would test him and the team along the way. 

“It was an honor be out there, to have the trust from Coach Hill to start me today,” Harrison said of getting the start for the final game he would play at the Les.  

Little did he know, the emotional extracurriculars would be quickly overshadowed by an aggressive swinging Fullerton team as leadoff hitter Nico Regino took the game’s first pitch and deposited it over the left field fence to give the Titans a 1-0 lead before fans could settle into their seats. 

The Titans added on a few pitches later as Jakob Schardt lofted a long, high fly ball over the wall in right to go back-to-back as the visitors looked to play spoiler for 14 seniors that would be celebrated following their final appearance at the Les. After a one-out single, a mound visit from Hill to Harrison seemed to be all the lefty needed to settle in as Hawai’i worked out of further damage to enter the bottom of the 1st trailing, 2-0. 

The ‘Bows, as resilient a bunch as Rich Hill has had in his three seasons at the helm for the program, continued a season-long trend of answering a score back with a run of their own as second baseman Jake Tsukada drew a one-out walk and advanced to third on a bloop double from Austin Machado. Kyson Donahue did the rest, grounding out to the right side to bring home his fellow senior in Tsukada for Hawai’i’s first run to cut the deficit in half, 2-1. 

After a little pep talk from teammates and coaches, Harrison was ready to turn the page from a shaky beginning to the night as he prepared for his second inning of work. 

“[Kyson Donahue] said it to me after the second home run, he was just like ‘they’re in swing mode because of how many strikes you throw,’” the senior left-hander recalled. “[He told me] to stay on the attack, mix it well and that we would be fine.” 

Harrison looked completely in control when he returned to the mound for the top of the 2nd, sitting down the Titans in order to bring the ‘Bows offense back up again. This time, it was center fielder Matthew Miura getting the rally started with a leadoff single back up the middle before advancing all the way to third on a wild pitch that bounced away from the catcher. 

Hawai’i junior Jared Quandt brought home Miura the very next at-bat, smoking an RBI double to right to tie the game at two before the right fielder came home a couple batters later on an Elijah Ickes RBI double to give the ‘Bows a 3-2 lead.

Hawai’i would never look back. 

Harrison returned for his third inning of work, allowing a two-out base hit before completing his second straight scoreless frame. While his day ended following a lead off infield single in the top of the 4th, the senior southpaw’s recovery from a rocky start helped reset the tone for the ‘Bows. 

“I can’t say enough about Connor,” Hill said following the game on his starter’s bounce back. “Just shows the resilience. That was it, they only scored two runs the first two batters of the game and he just kept coming back. He didn’t walk anybody, he didn’t hit anybody and in that first inning, he really got a big strikeout on a changeup to end the inning.”

Giving way to redshirt freshman Zacary Tenn, Harrison was in good hands as the right-hander was able to work around an error to keep Fullerton off the board again in the 4th. Tenn pulled off some Houdini magic in the top of the 5th inning for Hawai’i as well after allowing a leadoff double, making a solid throw to first on a sacrifice before inducing a pair of short pop-ups to strand the Titans’ runner at third and preserve the 3-2 advantage. 

Hawai’i added some breathing room in the bottom half of the fifth frame, stringing together a pair of runs with just one out after Jordan Donahue walked and scored from first on an RBI double by Tsukada and Tsukada crossed home a minute later after a Machado RBI single to give a 5-2 lead to the ‘Bows. 

After Tenn strung together four more outs, Hawai’i would turn to freshman standout Itsuki Takemoto to bring them the rest of the way home. Taking over after Tenn allowed a single, Takemoto got a pair of Titans to pop up to escape again with no damage to the lead.  

As the afternoon began to give way to the night, the 4,763 fans taking in the Mānoa Magic one more time in the 2024 season continued to buzz as Takemoto worked a perfect 8th and 9th inning while striking out four batters to clinch the 5-2 win and his fifth save of the season. 

“There aren’t really any adjectives to describe the fans,” Hill said of the historic number supporters in attendance. “[They’re just] the whole package. The energy, the noise, and they’re just very knowledgeable here … but they can make the other team buckle. [The other team] can just cave in after the 7th inning [because of the fans].” 

Tenn earned the victory for the Rainbow Warriors, bringing his record to 4-0 on the season as one of the pieces that is expected to return next year. Tsukada, who transferred from Portland to play his final season of eligibility at home, went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and an RBI in his final game at Les Murakami Stadium. 

After the game, Hawai’i honored 14 seniors as a full lineup and bench of ‘Bows bid aloha to UH fans inside Les Murakami Stadium. Their return for helping build the foundation for a program that reached heights not seen in nearly two decades? 

A whole lot of love back. 

With families and loved ones of the seniors already on the field after the ceremony, UH fans flooded the turf at the Les to fraternize with their baseball heroes one final time. Nearby, an extremely grateful head coach could be seen taking photos and chatting with each of his seniors. 

“I couldn’t have [made the move to Hawai’i] without these guys,” Hill said of massive graduating group. “They bought in from Day 1 and they performed. They’ve worked hard in the weight room, off the field, being good people, going to summer ball and it really showed up this season especially.” 

So, back to the question: Did Hawai’i baseball do enough? 

That depends on who you ask. For those who have avidly supported the program all season and possibly longer, the answer is a resounding yes – a team built on doing things the right way on and off the field while winning a whole bunch on it. Winners of 18 out of their final 20 games, posting the best Big West record in program history and the nation’s 2nd best collective Earned Runs Average amongst Division I schools (via D1 Baseball). 

Despite all of that, it seems that Hawai’i’s chances will be hurt by the final RPI rankings in the eyes of the committee. 

Sometimes, even being the hottest team in the country for three months isn’t enough. In the hearts of Hawai’i fans however, this team was everything they could ask for.