Hawaii baseball: Tyler Best embraces new role in lineup in victory over Washington State

Tyler Best caught a fly ball against Washington State on Saturday night. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

For the first time in over 50 games, the Hawaii baseball team saw a new face leading off the batting order. Outfielder Tyler Best jumped from No. 9 to No. 1 in the lineup, hitting 2-for-3 for two runs on two doubles to lead the Rainbow Warriors (7-2) to a 4-3 victory over the Washington State Cougars.

“It was a good team win. Before the game I was talking to Dustin (Demeter),” Best said. “I was a little amped. He calmed me down. I was talking to Scotty (Scott), about the leadoff role. Nine turns into a leadoff spot sometimes, so it wasn’t really that much different. I did hit a lot of leadoff prior to UH, in high school, so it wasn’t foreign to me. But just talking to Dustin, and (hearing) Scotty’s approach, it really helped me out a lot.”

“We lead him off a lot in our scrimmages, so he’s not unaccustomed to the approach. When you’re a leadoff hitter, you may only lead off one time, just the very first at-bat of the game. You just try to get on base,” head coach Mike Trapasso said.

Ever since he arrived at UH in 2019, ‘Bows baseball fans have grown accustomed to seeing the No. 1 jersey of right fielder Scott leading off for the team in the batting lineup. As a freshman, Scott was the only player to start all 50 games, leading off in each. The streak continued into the 2020 season, as he led off in each of the first eight games this season as well. That was finally snapped tonight, as Scott was held out for rest after being banged up in the two opening games of the series.

Best, who arrived on campus alongside Scott as part of the same recruiting class, was asked to step into the void. He proved immediately that he could handle the pressure, knocking the second pitch he saw deep into right field for a double, his first of the season, to open up the game for the ‘Bows offense. He later went on to cross home plate for Hawaii’s opening run on first baseman Alex Baeza’s fielder’s choice RBI.

His second at-bat of the day wouldn’t yield the same result, as he grounded out. Still, he did his part, advancing center fielder Matt Wong to second base. Wong would go on to score on the very next at-bat, as short stop Kole Kaler singled up the middle for the ‘Bows’ second run of the day.

Best didn’t have to wait much longer for his second hit of the game. He got his shot in the fourth inning, this time with a well-hit double to left field. The knock once again paid dividends right away, as he would go on to reach home for his second run of the game. Best was later walked to reach base again, but he fell one run shy of tying his career high (three RBIs). His two doubles did set a new career benchmark, however, as he picked up a one double four times in his freshman campaign.

“He did great,” Trapasso said of Best’s performance. “That’s baseball when you’re playing so many games. You’re going to have injuries, and how you deal with them, and how you deal with adversity, is really going to determine much of your season. We had tons of injuries, and struggled with them last year. But first of all, we have more depth (this season), and second of all, we’re more mature, with the same guys basically. We’ve got all the faith in the world in Best and Daylen (Calicdan) to go out there and get the job done. Its next man up. No one man or one coach is irreplaceable.”

Defensively, the ‘Bows employed a five-pitcher relay, with Cade Halemanu picking up the win out of the bullpen. Halemanu gave up four hits, picking up three strikeouts and no walks in two innings pitched. Hawaii also limited their mistakes, picking up a single error after yesterday’s two-error affair.

According to Trapasso, Scott will miss tomorrow’s series finale against Washington State at Les Murakami Stadium, though he is expected to be back in time for the road series against defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt depending on doctor’s orders.