Sweet start for Vuls
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Looks can be deceiving with University of Hawaii at Hilo freshman pitcher Jordan Kumasaka, who's listed at 5 feet 9 and 125 pounds on the team's roster, hardly an imposing figure against hitters usually taller and bigger.
But the slender left-hander kept spinning curveballs and painting fastballs on the corners, turning bats into pretzels and pitching the Vulcans to a 7-3 victory over Pacific University on Tuesday at Wong Stadium, earning UHH's first win on the young season.
In the second game, UHH defeated Pacific 2-1. Gavin Kinoshita pitched five innings for the win for the Vuls (2-4). Jason Sawyer took the loss for the Boxers (0-2).
"It feels pretty good. The defense worked hard, along with our bats and our catcher (Greg Cleary) did a good job calling pitches," Kumasaka said. "I worked around the plate, changed speeds and mixed up my pitches, changing speeds on my fastball a lot and occasionally my curveball.
"I didn't throw as hard as I normally throw. I'm usually 80 to 83 mph on my fastball. I had to find another way."
At first glance, his pitching line looked rather mundane: six innings, four hits, two runs, a walk and two strikeouts. But consider that the 2011 graduate from Pac-Five, the Division II state runner-up, had the Boxers scratching their heads and scoreless through five innings — in his first collegiate start.
It's a start and victory he'll remember for a long time. His previous significant start is one not so memorable. He started the state championship against Kauai and got torched. Kumasaka went three innings and gave up five runs on six hits and three walks in the 11-2 loss last May.
Against the Division III Boxers (21-16-2 last year), a bunch of older and more experienced hitters, he had but one brief hiccup, coughing up two runs in the sixth, losing a 1-0 lead, and hoping the Vulcans could score some runs to deliver his first collegiate win.
UHH's bats compiled against sidearming right-hander Mike McGuire, who surrendered back-to-back doubles to John Abreu and Jonathan James, and a go-ahead single to Joshua Wong that evaporated Pacific's 2-1 lead.
The hits kept coming an inning later. The Vuls, who lost four straight to Hawaii Pacific on the road by a combined score of 43-23, tagged McGuire for two more runs in the seventh, handing him the loss in 3 1/3 innings.
Abreu batted 2 for 3 to lead the Vuls, who compiled 12 hits.
Casey Bohlmann, a junior left-hander, took over for Kumasaka and pitched one-run relief over three innings for the save.
Kumasaka had no idea that UHH's last winning season was in 1992. However, he was full of optimism, especially after putting on a pitching performance worth remembering.
"We're very competitive and very good with our pitching staff. We've got a lot of returnees," he said. "I know we lost Keoni (Manago, the team's top hitter). All we can do is play small ball. We don't have any big hitters. We have to play smart and look to our pitching to hold us up."
Meanwhile, UHH coach Joey Estrella, in his 36th year, had high praise for his freshman pitcher.
"He had a lot of poise. He threw strikes, kept them off-balanced and was around the plate. Good things happen when you do that," Estrella said. "For a freshman, he showed poise in his first outing. He was exceptional."
The homecoming for Anson Arakaki, a 2009 Hilo graduate, is a bittersweet one. Four days ago, he dislocated his left shoulder during practice. He's expected to be back in the lineup in two weeks, likely missing the HPU series on Saturday and Sunday.
He joked the good news is he can at least brush his teeth with his good hand. Also, it was a bipartisan crowd of 164, a lot in attendance for Arakaki and his dad, Warren, a Pacific Hall of Famer for baseball.
The junior infielder is majoring in exercise science. He could enter the family business. His dad owns Arakaki Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation on Mohouli Street. But foremost on his mind was just being back at home.
"I was looking forward to coming home for so many months," he said. "It's a bummer, but it puts everything into perspective. Stuff happens and you have to try and find a positive in everything. At least I can eat with my right hand."