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

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

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. 

Hawai’i drops season-opening 13-inning marathon against Ole Miss, 5-4

Hawai’i drops season-opening 13-inning marathon against Ole Miss, 5-4

Hawai’i drops season-opening 13-inning marathon against Ole Miss, 5-4

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 16, 2024

HONOLULU – Todd Gurley walked out to the mound with a big smile on his face, taking in the beauty of Mānoa’s premiere baseball field as he tossed out the opening pitch for the University of Hawai’i baseball team’s season as the BaseBows kicked off the 2024 campaign with a high-anticipated matchup against Ole Miss (1-0) in front of a sold out Les Murakami Stadium. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (0-1) fell Saturday evening in a marathon of an opener to a four-game set against 2022 national champion Ole Miss, 5-4 in 13 innings in beautiful Mānoa. 

Left-hander Harrison Bodendorf got the start on the mound for the Rainbow Warriors following his All-America freshman year, giving up a ground-rule double on the game’s first pitch after right fielder Sean Rimmer lost the ball in the lights. The sophomore southpaw responded by picking up his teammate, getting the next three Rebels batters in order to end the early threat from the visitors unscathed. 

Hawai’i left fielder Jake Tsukada kicked off the offensive side of the game for the ‘Bows with a hard-fought walk to lead off the bottom of the first against Ole Miss starter JT Quinn before the right-hander struck out Dallas Duarte and Stone Miyao to settle back in. Hawai’i first baseman Ben Ziegler-Namoa would pop out to the shallow left field grass to end the ‘Bows first inning threat. 

Ole Miss got the scoring started in the top of the second after centerfielder Ethan Groff hammered a Bodendorf offering over the left field fence to push the Rebels out in front, 2-0. Hawai’i’s Bodendorf did not let the poor pitch linger in his mind, escaping the inning by retiring the next three batters with a sharp groundout to first and back-to-back Ks to hold the damage at two runs. 

Hawai’i scratched out their first hit of the night as CF Matthew Miura hustled down the first base line for an infield single, but nothing more came from the ‘Bows bats in the bottom of the second. 

The Rebels tacked on another run in the top of the third, capitalizing on back-to-back one-out walks with an Ethan Lege RBI single up the middle before Hawai’i was able to end the top of the third. The bats for the ‘Bows remained quiet in the bottom of the third, going down in order as freshman Elijah Ickes struck out swinging in his first college at-bat. 

UH started action in the bullpen in the fourth as Bodendorf walked his third Rebel of the night, but the southpaw quickly returned to form to set down Ole Miss in the top of the fourth and keep it a three-run contest. Ziegler-Namoa led off the bottom half of the inning with a walk, coming around to score on a deep Austin Machado RBI single off of the top of the right field wall to put the BaseBows on the board. Miura quickly stole third after, putting runners on the corners for Hawai’i before coming home on an RBI single from Sean Rimmer that bounced off the pitching hand of Ole Miss’s Quinn to help end the Rebels’ sophomore’s night on the mound. 

The Rebels’ Mason Morris entered in relief needing two outs to maintain the slim one-run advantage for the visitors but was immediately greeted by a Kyson Donahue RBI double that sliced down the left field line to tie things up in the bottom of the fourth before Ole Miss finally escaped the frame. 

Hawai’i senior Alex Giroux replaced Bodendorf to open up the fifth as the ‘Bows reignited the sell-out crowd’s energy in the half-inning prior. 

Giroux worked quickly through the Rebels’ lineup, retiring three of the four batters he faced to keep the game knotted up. Hawai’i’s offense returned blank fire in the bottom half of the frame to give the game the first scoreless inning since the opening one of the night. 

The sides traded zeroes again in the sixth as Giroux faced the minimum three batters thanks to a double-play ball before Hawai’i wasted a chance with a runner in scoring position in the bottom half of the sixth as Morris got Kyson Donahue swinging to end the frame. 

Ole Miss used three free passes from Hawai’i in the top of the seventh to load the bases up against Giroux with two outs, but the veteran righty was able to cut the Rebels off there by forcing Lege to lineout to right for the final out before the seventh inning stretch. UH gave Ole Miss a score with their turn at bat by putting a runner at second with only one out, but a pop out and strikeout of Stone Miyao killed the go-ahead rally quickly. 

Hawai’i took its first lead of the night in the bottom of the eighth, manufacturing the team’s fourth run with the help of small ball and a wild pitch as Ziegler-Namoa scored after back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt put him on third before scoring. 

The visiting Rebels didn’t wait long to tie things up once again after loading the bases with only one out in the top of the ninth as Groff plated his third RBI of the night with a sacrifice fly to deep center. Hawai’i put two runners on with one out in the bottom of the ninth as they tried to open the year with a walk-off win after closing the 2023 season with a walk-off victory, but a missile off the bat of Miura was snatched right at second base to double-up Dallas Duarte and send the game into extra innings. 

Each team continued trading zeroes into the night as the game approached the 5-hour mark in the 13th inning, seeing the debuts of new UH pitchers Danny Veloz and Hunter Gotschall after the ninth. The Rebels finally broke through in the top of the 13th against the freshman Gotschall as Lege punched an RBI single passed the outstretched glove of Miyao into right field for the game-winning hit. Hawai’i would hold Ole Miss to just one run despite a bases-loaded jam thanks to left-hander Tai Atkins, but one was all the visiting Rebels needed as UH went down in order in the bottom half of the 13th to fall, 5-4. 

Ole Miss reliever Mason Nichols earned the win for the Rebels while Connor Spencer recorded the save in the season-opener. UH freshman was charged with the loss for Hawai’i, giving up two hits and walking one in 1+ innings of work. 

The two squads are back in action on the diamond on Saturday for a double-header with the first pitch of game one scheduled for 1:05 p.m. HT. Randy Abshier is the listed starter for Hawai’i in the opening game of Saturday’s twin bill. Ole Miss southpaw Gunnar Dennis will be tabbed with the start for the Rebels.