Freshman second baseman Dallas Duarte’s solid night at the plate was not enough to lead Hawaiʻi (11-15, 1-1 BWC) past conference rival UC Irvine on Saturday night at the Les Murakami Stadium.
Duarte finished the game with two hits in four at bats with one run scored and one RBI, but the Rainbow Warriors lost 8-5 as the Anteaters evened the season series.
“I thought he swung well tonight,” head coach Mike Trapasso said. “He made a great play on defense. He’s a great player. He’s a baseball player.”
Facing sophomore pitcher Jeremy Wu-Yelland, UC Irvine took control of the game with some early offense. Wu-Yelland had an especially rough first inning, walking two batters and giving up two runs on two hits as the Anteaters strode out to a 2-0 lead. Wu-Yelland’s performance prompted a first inning mound visit from Trapasso.
Wu-Yelland appeared to settle down in the second inning. He gave up another walk, but struck out two others and retired a third batter. His struggles returned in the third inning, as he gave up a double to start the inning. An error on a UC Irvine hit sent a runner home and handed Wu-Yelland his third run given up of the night. He gave up another double to the next batter as the ‘Bows faced a 3-0 deficit. Sophomore pitcher Cade Smith took over on the mound, striking out two batters and retiring a third to bail Wu-Yelland out.
“We didn’t play (too) poorly, but we pitched poorly,” Trapasso said. “I’ve seen enough of that and I’m not going to keep watching that anymore.”
Still, the offense did not do much to alleviate Wu-Yelland’s early struggles. Sophomore first baseman Alex Baeza doubled down the left field line in the first inning to give Hawai’i's first hit of the game. However, he was left stranded on base when senior third baseman Ethan Lopez struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch. Junior designated hitter Brennen Hancock added a double of his own to start the second inning, but he too was left on base as Anteaters pitcher Tanner Brubaker retired the next three UH hitters.
The ‘Bows showed signs of life in the fourth inning. Baeza singled to right field to open the bottom of the fourth. Hancock was walked on a full count, but was called out at second base on a fielder’s choice the next at bat. Duarte singled up the middle to send Baeza home as Hawai'i managed to avoid the shutout.
“I’ve been struggling lately. My team picked me up,” Duarte said. “I felt like I had to bring my A-game. When (the team) picks me up, all I want to do is return the favor.”
Smith came out strong again in the fifth inning, retiring the side. But the offense was not able to take advantage, failing to tally a single hit.
Things fell apart for Smith in the sixth inning, as Anteaters pinch hitter John Jensen was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Jensen rounded the bases and made his way home as Smith gave up two consecutive singles. Duarte made a phenomenal dive to set up a double play, flipping the ball to senior shortstop Maaki Yamazaki. Yamazaki then threw a dart to first base to complete the double play. Despite the excellent defensive play, UC Irvine shortstop Christian Koss managed to walk home from third base for the Anteaters’ second run of the inning. Sophomore pitcher Carter Loewen took the mound to try to salvage the inning, but gave up another run on an Anteater single and gave UC Irvine a 6-1 lead.
“All I know is I made an error before (that diving play),” Duarte said grinning. “I needed to make up for it. I was either diving or that ball was going through.”
The ‘Bows were not done yet however. Lopez, Hancock and Yamazaki all reached base to start the inning. Duarte grounded into a double play, but he managed to send Lopez home and cut the lead down to four.
UC Irvine appeared to quash any hopes of a UH comeback in the seventh inning with two home runs to left field. After giving up a home run to start the inning, Loewen was pulled for senior pitcher Kash Koltermann. Koltermann retired the first batter he faced, but gave up another home run to Koss as the Anteaters took an 8-2 lead.
The ‘Bows didn’t seem to get the message that the game was over though. Yamazaki and Duarte opened the inning with consecutive singles to right field, before freshman pinch hitter Daniel Crasnick was walked to load the bases for UH. Freshman right fielder Tyler Best then singled through the left side, sending Yamazaki home. Freshman center fielder Scotty Scott’s RBI groundout sent Duarte home as Hawai’i clawed to within four points. Sophomore left fielder Daylen Calicdan’s RBI groundout sent Crasnick home, but that ultimately proved to be the ‘Bows’ last run of the night. The ninth inning comeback fell short by mere feet, as Baeza’s last deep shot fell shy of clearing the outfield wall.
One story-line to keep an eye on is the emergence of freshman pitcher Connor Butler. In just one inning pitched, Butler finished with two strikeouts and no runs given up. Butler previously made a brief debut against CSU Bakersfield on March 15. He faced just one batter that day, who Butler struck out with no problem. In his short career, Butler has appeared in just 1.1 innings, yet has a whopping three strikeouts and no hits given up.
“He’s got great stuff,” Trapasso said. “He’s got an unhittable curve ball, and his fastball is in the high 80s touching 90s. It’s just a matter of continuing to get him experience.”
With the victory, the Anteaters even the series as Hawaiʻi takes its first conference loss.
The ‘Bows return to the Les Murakami Stadium on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. to try to reclaim the series lead against UC Irvine