Throw strikes and let the defense play behind you.
It’s the philosophy Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso has used with his pitchers for his nearly 20 years on the job and it was exactly what starter Logan Pouelsen did in the opener of a four-game series against Washington State on Thursday night at Les Murakami Stadium.
Unfortunately for Pouelsen, the Cougars, led by first-year coach Brian Green — the former UH assistant who turned around New Mexico State over the past five seasons — came out looking to attack early in the count.
Collin Montez homered on the first pitch he saw in the top of the first inning and added a three-run homer in the third to account for nearly the entire Cougars offense. It was more than enough run support for starter Zane Mills and reliever Bryce Moyle, who combined to allow just six hits in the Cougars’ 6-2 win.
Pouelsen, who entered the game with 16 strikeouts and no walks, threw 42 of his 58 pitches for strikes but got the quick hook after four innings. He allowed five hits and walked his first batter of the season in the fourth after WSU had already gone ahead 6-2.
“(Montez) hit them into the night and that was the night,” Trapasso said after the game on the Spectrum Sports broadcast. “The first (two-run) homer, we went first-pitch change and it looked a little elevated to me — Logan thought it was a good pitch. The second three-run homer was just a really bad pitch. Then after that he just looked empty. (The home runs) will take it out of you. That’s not going to happen (to Pouelsen) very often.”
Hawaii got two runs back in the bottom of the third inning when the first four hitters all singled, but outside of that, the offense couldn’t muster anything against Mills, who struck out seven and walked two in seven innings.
Hawaii won its series 3-1 against North Dakota State last week and outscored the Bison 29-5 in the final three wins after dropping the opener 3-1.
It was a similar start this week and continues a recent trend of struggles to begin a series. UH dropped to 1-7 in the opener of a series against Division I opponents in its last eight dating back to last year.
UH has scored 20 runs in those eight openers.
“We didn’t have enough good at-bats to really chip away (at the lead),” Trapasso said.
UH’s middle of the lineup — Dustin Demeter, Adam Fogel and Alex Baeza — combined to go 0-for-10 against the Cougars (2-3).
The bright spot of the game for UH (5-2) was reliever Tai Atkins. The 2019 Honolulu Star-Advertiser pitcher of the year from Kamehameha-Hawaii threw four scoreless innings and struck out seven, allowing just three hits with one walk.
“Tai did exactly what you’re supposed to do and I think it was a coming-out party for him,” Trapasso said. “This is the Tai we have seen in our scrimmages.”
Carter Loewen struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning.
It was the first of eight games UH will play against Pac-12 opponents this season. The ‘Bows are now 2-21 in their last 23 games against Pac-12 foes.