Baseball: Vulcans ride hot streak into final home series

  • photo by Shelly Blunck/UHH Mana Manago and the Vulcans have been running toward their best season in over two decades. UHH hosts Holy Names at 3 p.m. Saturday and Monday in doubleheaders.

UH-Hilo has won eight games straight on the diamond, not quite halfway to the school record of 19 games in a row, which was set in 1982.

That 1982 squad featured Kallen Miyataki, who’s in his sixth year as coach of the Vulcans. He’s engineered a massive turnaround at UHH, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1992.

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The Vulcans have 12 games left and a chance to shatter that old school record. That may be a tall order because there are three series left: Holy Names (Saturday and Monday), and on the road against Point Loma and Biola.

Point Loma is second in the conference, and Biola is fourth, right below the Vulcans, who accomplished their run against bottom feeders Hawaii Pacific and Academy of Art.

Still, an eight-game winning streak isn’t easy. Take the last win, a 5-4 win over the Sharks on Oahu.

The Vuls scored the go-ahead run in the eighth, Brandyn Lee-Lehano was brilliant with three innings of scoreless relief for the win, and John Kea fired a perfect frame for his seventh save.

It’s sort of been symbolic of how UHH has been winning. Miyataki has an easy explanation for the hot streak.

“It’s been hard work,” Miyataki said. “We’ve had a little bit of everything, including a little luck. Our pitching has been one of the main reasons with our starters grinding it out. Brandyn Lee-Lehano and John Kea have done a wonderful job at the back end, and we’re getting timely hits.

“We’ve been playing together and playing well. Our team chemistry is jelling right now.”

The only bummer right now is that second baseman Mana Manago (.337 batting average) and center fielder Kyle Yamada (.320), the top two hitters, are listed as questionable for Holy Names. The two seniors are battling hamstring issues.

Manago was injured in the first game of the HPU series, and another senior Mikey Rita ably filled in. He batted 4 of 11 and raised his batting average to .283.

There are five senior starters: outfielders Yamada and Dylan Sugimoto (.297), catcher/designated hitter Kamalu Neal (.309), second baseman Manago, and first baseman RJ Romo (.276).

“You couldn’t ask any more from Yamada and Manago,” Miyataki said. “They came in as freshmen, started and got better and better. Sugimoto (who played at San Jose State) is a great kick back from San Jose State. Kamalu has stepped up at the plate, and Romo is coming into his own. He’s working harder than ever, and it’s paying off.

“No matter the score, they keep grinding. You really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Well, a quick recovery for Yamada and Manago would be nice. It would also help the Vulcans to remember that Holy Names (14-22) is seventh in the conference but no pushover.

The Hawks split a four-game series against conference leader Azusa Pacific; the Cougars swept the Vuls.

“We’ve got to play good baseball. The team that makes the least amount of errors will come out on top,” Miyataki said. “Holy Names doesn’t have a lot of wings, but they’ve been playing spoiler along the way.

“If our pitching can get to the seventh, I’m sure we’ll find a way with Brandyn and Kea coming in to shore things up.”

That’s the way it’s been working for the Vulcans, who only need to go 5-7 for the rest of the season to finish with a 23-22 record, which would be the first winning record since 1992.

Softball

In the first NCAA Division II West Region rankings, the Vulcans (28-15) are ninth.

The West Region consists of three conferences: PacWest, GNAC, and CCAA.

Conference champions earn an automatic postseason spot along with the next five teams in the rankings.

UC San Diego State, from the CCAA, is No. 1 and the other PacWest teams are Concordia at No 2 and Azusa Pacific at No. 5. The Cougars took three of four from the Vulcans earlier. UHH lost three of four to the Eagles, but beat the Eagles and ace Callie Nunes, who was a freshman All-American first team pick, 5-1 in the opener.

Tennis

The UHH women’s tennis team lost to Point Loma 4-0 in the first round of the PacWest championships on Wednesday in Arizona.

The Vulcans (5-11) were swept in straight sets in all of their matches. They conclude their season with a consolation match against Stanislaus State.

Carmelle Joyner and Anouk Van Hoek were named to the PacWest third team in doubles.

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UHH’s Martin Soukal was named PacWest freshman of the year while teammates Vaclav Slezak and Alessandro Giulato earned first-team honors in singles and doubles.

It’s the second consecutive year Slezak and Giulato were named first team in singles and doubles. Soukal was also named to the second team in singles, and he and teammate Chun En Wu were tabbed third team in doubles.

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