Hawaii baseball: Dustin Demeter, Cardiac ‘Bows walk it off over Hilo in 2020 opener

Third baseman Dustin Demeter celebrated with teammates after hitting a walk-off homer over Hawaii Hilo in the 2020 season opener on Friday night. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser

What. A. Finish.

The Hawaii baseball team showed off the ice in its veins to the 1,700-plus Rainbow Warriors’ faithful at Les Murakami Stadium on Friday night. The ‘Bows (1-0) took things down to the wire, finally pulling ahead on the final swing of the game to take Hawaii Hilo down 5-4.

A pair of key returnees fueled the late rally for the ‘Bows. Redshirt junior Adam Fogel, who missed 40 games in 2019 after an injury to his throwing shoulder, did his part by bringing the tying run on base. Fogel, who didn’t get a hit on Friday night, stayed composed on his last at-bat in the ninth inning. Facing a full count, he didn’t flinch on the missed pitch, heading to first base for his second walk of the game. But with one out already on the board, the question remained — how to bring him home.

Dustin Demeter answered that.

The redshirt junior, making his long-awaited return to the diamond after undergoing surgeries on both hips prior to the 2019 season, was one of two ‘Bows to pick up two hits against the Vulcans. His second walked it off for Hawaii.

Representing one of the team’s last chances to turn the tide, Demeter was quickly cornered on back-to-back strikes. With things looking dire, he wouldn’t waver, swinging with all his might on the third pitch. The result was a bomb that flew deep into right field and over the fence, sending himself and Fogel around the bases as the dugout spilled out onto the field.

“It’s indescribable. Completely indescribable. I don’t know how to put into words what’s going on in my head right now. Unreal feeling,” Demeter said of his home run. “I knew we were down by one. You never go up looking for home runs. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. I got one, and I put a good swing on it. That’s all you can do.”

Head coach Mike Trapasso, for his part, believed there was a degree of divine intervention at Les Murakami Stadium. Just a week before opening his 19th season at the helm of Hawaii baseball, Trapasso and his family were struck with tragedy when his mother passed away. Friday night, he was certain that she lent her aid to this Rainbow Warrior team.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that, I felt like … my mom passed away last week … and I felt like, I think it was a 2-2 count on Fogel. I asked my mom to, maybe talk to the big guy, since she’s close by, to help us out a little bit. I just felt like Demeter was going to put a good swing on,” Trapasso said.

Fogel spoke after the game about the added significance of the win.

“I could not be happier for Coach Trap. Losing any family member, especially your mom, I can’t even imagine what it feels like to deal with something like that,” he said. “Just to be able to get a win for him, not to mention a walk-off homer. That was crazy. I’m happy for the guy.”

The win was a shining return for two of the ‘Bows’ key players.

“100%,” Demeter said of his current form. “I’m good to go. I’ve probably never felt better than I feel right now.”

Demeter’s big home run swing helped the ‘Bows break a recent trend of season-opening losses. Prior to Friday night, Hawaii had lost three of the previous four season openers. The lone win in that stretch came in 2018, when the Rainbow Warriors took down Air Force. The last time Hawaii faced UH Hilo in a season opener, the Vulcans walked away with a 1-0 victory on their home turf. This time around, luck would favor the ‘Bows.

Hawaii players ran out of the dugout to celebrate at home plate as Dustin Demeter rounded the bases on his two-run shot. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Senior Logan Pouelsen got the start on the mound for Hawaii. Despite giving up a first inning two-run homer to the Vulcans, Pouelsen had a solid game overall, finishing with four earned runs on six hits, with seven strikeouts, and more importantly, zero walks. Pouelsen threw 84 pitches in six innings of work.

“Our goal was to get him to 90 pitches tonight. They just put two good swings on, and he looked like he was fatiguing,” Trapasso said. “I was really impressed with the composure he showed, with the two-run home run in the first. It can rattle some guys. That’s why Logan is our Friday guy. He didn’t walk anybody. He’ll force contact no matter how many good swings somebody will put on him. He’ll just keep coming at you and pounding the zone, making you hit it somewhere. I thought he was really good.”

Junior lefty reliever Jeremy Wu-Yelland stepped in for Pouelsen at the top of the seventh inning. He finished with three strikeouts and one walk, giving up just two hits on 47 pitches. Wu-Yelland picked up the win.

Hawaii kept pace with UH Hilo in the early going, matching shot for shot en route to a 3-3 tie after three innings. The ‘Bows would go on to be held scoreless in the next six innings, however, while the Vulcans picked up what appeared to be a game-winning run in the seventh.

Of course, never come to pass, thanks to the swing of Dustin Demeter.

“We’re never down,” Demeter said of the team’s mentality in the final innings. “We’ve got a good group of guys in that clubhouse. Everybody loves everybody. Best clubhouse I’ve ever been a part of. Guys just have each other’s back, every single time. It’s an amazing feeling of unity. I think it showed tonight.”

The Rainbow Warriors will return to Les Murakami Stadium on Sunday afternoon to once again face Hilo before hosting North Dakota State for a four-game tilt next weekend.