A joke going around the UH-Hilo baseball program the other day was one everybody in the area could appreciate.
“Did you see the UFO in the sky Tuesday?” coach Kallen Miyataki said.
The Vulcans (4-4) were scheduled to have roughly three weeks of helpful time off to review an eight-game opening that featured issues both promising and nagging, but thanks to the a common dose of East Hawaii wet weather, it’s been “terrible time off,” Miyataki said.
UH-Hilo finally got a chance to undergo a full practice Tuesday at Wong Stadium. The Vuls hope the good vibes gained by the program’s first four-game sweep since 2013 weren’t washed away heading into their Pacific West Conference opener, a four-game series against Biola that starts Thursday.
“This will be a good test,” Miyataki said.
Biola (9-1, 3-1 PacWest) is a name associated with the NAIA level, but the Eagles were more than up to the task during a four-game stretch at Hawaii Pacific, completed Monday, that saw them win three games and largely handcuff the Sharks in their first conference series.
“HPU is supposed to be one of the top- four, top-five teams in our conference,” Miyataki said.
Behind starters Wyatt Haccou (2-0, 1.72 ERA), who pitched Monday, and Micah Beyer (2-0, 2.25 ERA), who last pitched Saturday, Biola’s pitching staff features a 2.97 ERA.
The Vulcans look to extend their best start since 2011 coming off a sweep of Saint Martin’s in which they at times rode good pitching – a 3-0 win behind Dylan Spain and a 5-0 victory with Travis Burleson on the mound – and in other instances depended on good hitting, prevailing 17-16 and 15-10.
“We found a way to get wins, and hopefully we can take it from there,” Miyataki said
Miyataki prefers to use Burleson, a freshman right-hander, in the second game of doubleheaders, which are seven innings. In that spot Feb. 7 against Saint Martin’s, Burleson responded with a three-hitter, striking out eight. In 12 innings, Burleson has allowed one earned run and seven hits and 14 strikeouts.
A) Miyataki isn’t surprised;
B) Burleson’s future isn’t necessarily as a starter, or even as a pitcher;
“I’ve been after him since his junior year (at Fountain Valley High, Calif.),” Miyataki said. “We knew he could pitch and play other positions, and when (left-hander) Morgan West went down we pushed him into that role. Lo and behold, he’s done well.”
“He’s got a great attitude.”
He also might have a future elsewhere.
Miyataki mentioned closer, but added, “Let me tell you, he can really swing (the bat).”
Fresh off a redshirt season, senior shortstop Edison Sakata has been proficient at the plate as well, hitting .391, and all-PacWest first baseban Philip Steering heated up against Saint Martin’s and his hitting .355 with seven RBIs.
Right-hander Dylan Spain (1-1, 5.40 ERA), coming off a one-hit gem, gets the customary start in the 6 p.m. opener Thursday, Kamehameha graduate Brandyn Lee-Lehano (0-1, 9.95) goes at 6 p.m. Friday and Kyle Alcorn (0-0, 3.12) precedes Burleson and starts the first game of Saturday’s 4 p.m. doubleheader.
The young staff will have to be cognizant of Biola base runners, who have swiped 22 bags in 12 games.
Junior outfielder Jerron Largusa leads the Eagles with a .432 average, five doubles and 11 RBIs.
“We’re ready to go,” Miyataki said.
Water-drenched Wong, hopefully, will be as well.
“Playable (Tuesday),” he said, “but the field could use some sun and wind to dry out.”