Hawaii baseball: Rainbow Warriors hang tough against Oregon, rewarded with big sixth-inning explosion

Hawaii's Kole Kaler slid safely into second base ahead of the throw for a double during the game against the Oregon Ducks on Thursday. / Photo by Darryl Oumi, Special to the Star-Advertiser

After trailing for five inning with no real sense of offensive production, the Hawaii baseball team came roaring back with a sixth-inning offensive eruption to take down the Oregon Ducks 6-4. Three Rainbow Warriors picked up RBIs in the three-hit and five-run inning, giving the ‘Bows (9-5) their first lead of the series.

Hawaii would go on to hold on to the lead with a five-pitcher relay, capped off by a dominant relief performance by Jeremy Wu-Yelland. The junior lefty punched out three hitters via strikeout and didn’t give up a hit in 1 2/3 innings pitched en route to his second save of the season.

“I don’t know if we hung into anything, because we really weren’t there the first five innings of the game,” coach Mike Trapasso said. “It was our poorest effort from a focus standpoint. Maybe effort’s not the right word, because these guys are never going to shy away from giving their best effort, but we weren’t there from a focus standpoint.”

“We were flat in the first five innings of the game, both in the dugout and on the field,” shortstop Kole Kaler added. “That wasn’t like us. We got it going in the sixth inning. That was us right there. That’s who we are. That’s what we need to continue to be.”

Offensively, Hawaii was led by junior Kaler. The shortstop finished with two hits in three at-bats. He picked up a team-best seventh double this season, as well as the go-ahead two-RBI single in the sixth inning. Kaler extends his team-lead in hits and RBIs, now with 20 and 13 respectively.

“I’m just trying to help the team win,” he said. “Whether I get two-three hits a game, or somebody else gets two-three hits, its all the same. A win is a win. We needed that tonight.”

Kaler was joined by sophomore outfielders Scotty Scott and Tyler Best, who each plated a run in the turnaround inning. Facing new Oregon reliever Keaton Chase, Hawaii put a pair of runners on base to lead off the inning with Adam Fogel’s walk and Alex Baeza’s single. Best followed with an RBI knock to the Oregon shortstop, scoring Fogel. Matt Wong was then plunked to load the bases. Hawaii looked to capitalize with no outs on the board, but a fielder’s choice to home plate and an infield popup soon put the potential tying run in doubt.

Despite the two outs on the board, Scott displayed his patience at the plate, taking a 3-1 walk to trim the deficit to just a single run. On the next at-bat, Kaler singled to center field, giving Hawaii a lead it would not relinquish. Scott capped off the big inning by making his way home on a failed pickoff attempt on Kaler.

Over the next three innings, relievers Li‘i Pontes, Vince Reilly, and Wu-Yelland wouldn’t give up a run. Wu-Yelland in particular looked dominant on the mound. Entering the game in the top of the eighth, he struck out the first batter he faced on three straight strikes, before escaping the inning with a ground out to third base. He was even better in the ninth, a 1-2-3 inning that saw him strike out the first and third batters swinging.

Pontes was credited with his first win of the season despite pitching just one inning.

“The key was Jeremy coming in and doing well early like all the other relievers did, but then finishing the job,” Trapasso said. “He’s getting to a point now where he’s pitching with confidence. You give him a lead, he’s smelling it right now.”

Hawaii and Oregon return to Les Murakami Stadium Friday night for game two of the series.