Rainbow baseball toes line between lucky and good

Hawaii third baseman Ethan Lopez (9) reacted with first baseman Alex Baeza (10) after scoring the go-ahead run against Cal State Bakersfield in the eighth inning. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser.

On it’s own it’s an incredible statistic.

Only 17 games into the 2019 season, the Hawaii baseball team has already won five games when trailing after seven innings.

It’s a mark that shows an ability to play all nine innings, battle to the very end and never give up.

Those traits are obviously important to being a good team, but as Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso wisely said after Thursday’s 7-4 win over Cal State Bakersfield, it’s also an unsustainable method of victory.

“It’s a great statistic (but) it’s not going to hold up over the long haul, especially in the Big West,” Trapasso said. “I’d much rather score six in the first inning than the last but you take them when they come.”

The ‘Bows did it again to open a four-game series against the Roadrunners (9-10) with sophomore Daylen Calicdan playing the role of hero for the second straight Thursday. Seven days after his go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning resulted in a win over Oregon, Calicdan found a hole through the left side of the infield for the go-ahead two-run single in a six-run eighth inning that ended UH’s season-long losing streak at three games.

“The first pitch I seen him go offspeed which I hadn’t seen the whole night,” Calicdan said. “So I was just trying to see things deep and put a good swing on it and lucky to roll one over again through the hole.”

It gave Hawaii a 5-4 lead and the ‘Bows tacked on two more on a bases-loaded walk and an error.

A three-run lead in the ninth inning wasn’t a given in the series against Oregon. Two of UH’s three losses to end the Oregon series came with Hawaii holding two-run leads in the eighth inning of one game and the ninth inning of another.

This night was different, however. Junior Dylan Thomas, who tied the school’s single-season saves record a year ago and was a preseason second-team All-American as a closer by one major publication this year, was back in his closer role.

After pitching in the starting rotation over the past two series, Thomas was moved back into the bullpen after the two late losses to the Ducks. It was just like old times against Bakersfield as Thomas recorded his 28th strikeout in 20 innings to start the ninth and then got two ground balls to close it out.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike, honestly,” Thomas said. “It’s hard not to have the adrenaline at the end of the game there. Having experienced a couple of starts now I definitely think it’s a little more mellow coming out of the gate when you’re starting. I couldn’t help but feel my heart beating a little bit faster there (closing).”

Sophomore Cade Smith gave the ‘Bows a chance to make the comeback after inheriting runners on first and third and nobody out in the top of the eighth. He allowed a chopper back up the middle for a base hit to score one run but then struck out the next three batters — all looking — to get out of the frame only down 4-1.

“That was the game, honestly,” Trapasso said. “Cade Smith coming in and managing that inning for us was huge.

“Cade’s a guy who struggled early and it’s all just in his breathing and trusting some mechanical adjustments that really work for him. He’s been a big-leaguer in the bullpen for us but in games so far this season he’s struggled and it’s really just a simple little adjustment, but he did it today and he was electric. The ball just exploded out of his hand.”

Hawaii sophomore right-hander Cade Smith earned his first win of the season with three straight strikeouts to end the eighth inning against CSU Bakersfield. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser.