Hawaii baseball: Kole Kaler adjusting to life in Division I as Rainbow Warriors pick up second win

Hawaii shortstop Kole Kaler got UH Hilo catcher Jacob Igawa at second base on Saturday. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

The Hawaii baseball team picked up up its second win of the 2020 season, 6-4 over Hawaii Hilo, thanks in part to the bat of shortstop Kole Kaler on Saturday afternoon at Les Murakami Stadium.

The junior was terrific at the plate, picking up a team-best three hits in his four at-bats, including each of his first three. He also finished with one sacrifice bunt, as well as one stolen base.

“I thought Kole, the whole weekend, was outstanding. We were able to see, defensively, what we’re capable of doing. We’ve got two games, no errors, and some really good plays, beyond routine plays from that left side of the infield,” coach Mike Trapasso said. “He made some really nice plays (defensively), and then when you get an offensive day like he had today, you’ve really got something special going. We’ll expect him to make all those plays like he did this weekend. We won’t expect him to get three hits a game, but when he does, that’s even better.”

Kaler joined the Rainbow Warriors (2-0) this past offseason. The Queen Creek, Ariz., native spent the past first two years of his collegiate career at South Mountain Community College, where he helped lead the Cougars to an ACCAC title in 2018. That season, as a freshman, Kaler finished with 34 runs with nine doubles and three home runs.

Kaler improved on that in 2019, with 40 RBIs, 48 runs scored, eight doubles, four triples, and five home runs. He was named second-team All-ACCAC as a sophomore.

“The atmosphere was crazy. The energy from the dugout was unreal,” Kaler said of his first weekend in Division I. “The transition for me was not too bad. My teammates were very welcoming. The people here are awesome.”

Despite being one of the newer members of the team, Kaler has already been lauded by Trapasso.

“We saw right away what a mature guy he was, and the leadership he brings to the entire infield, always being locked in,” Trapasso said. “He still hasn’t played against a Division I opponent, but I think we all know, just by seeing his first action under scoreboard pressure, with the fans in the stands, so many in the opposing dugout, how poised he is and how he goes about his business. He made some outstanding plays, plays that he actually made look easier than they are. But that’s what we recruited him for. We were excited to have gotten him when he committed to us, and we saw right away in the fall the maturity he brings.”

After not picking up a hit in his debut Friday night, Kaler didn’t wait long to rectify that in his second try. On his first at-bat of the ballgame, Kaler sent a well-hit double down the right-field line on a 1-0 pitch. The hit sent leadoff man Scotty Scott, who was pegged by a pitch to start the ballgame, to third base. Not long after, Scott reached home on a sacrifice fly to give UH a first-inning run and the early lead.

Kaler grounded out on his next at-bat, but it was ruled a sacrifice bunt after sophomores Tyler Best and Scott advanced to third and second base respectively. Best later scored on a sac fly.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Kaler picked up his second hit with his second double of the day on a 3-1 count. He was then advanced to third base, but ultimately left stranded in a scoreless inning.

Kole Kaler slid into third base ahead of the tag of UH Hilo’s Lucas Sakay. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

His third hit of the ballgame came in the seventh inning, on a single through the left side. The hit advanced Scott to third base, where was able to capitalize on DH Adam Fogel’s sac fly to score the ‘Bows’ fourth run of the game. Kaler himself later reached home for the first time in his UH career on Dustin Demeter’s triple to right field.

Heroes of Friday night’s season-opening victory, Fogel and Demeter led the ‘Bows with two RBIs apiece in their second go-around. Fogel has yet to tally a hit this season, but finished with two sac flies Saturday. Demeter picked up a hit in two at-bats, with an RBI triple and a sac fly.

Sophomore right-hander Aaron Davenport started on the mound for the ‘Bows, finishing with six hits given up, two earned runs, four strikeouts and one walk in three innings of work. He was relieved by fellow righty Cade Smith, who finished with five hits allowed, two earned runs, two strikeouts and zero walks in four innings pitched. The final two innings were entrusted to freshman Vince Reilly, who retired six straight batters to pick up his first career save at the collegiate level.

The Rainbow Warriors take on North Dakota State in a four-game series next weekend.