Kallen Miyataki knows there’s a trap door waiting for his UH-Hilo baseball team, but he would rather get win two games against Hawaii Pacific to avoid it and advance to the postseason for the first time in a very, very long time.
The Vulcans (11-7, 11-4 PacWest) play the Sharks (4-15, 4-11) in a five-game series at Les Murakami Stadium, starting at 4 p.m. Friday. Then the two teams play doubleheaders at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
If you’re looking at the records, it seems like the simple math doesn’t make sense. If the Sharks win all five games, they’re still 9-11 in the conference, still behind the Vulcans for the PacWest Hawaii pod championship, which includes an automatic qualifier to the three-team West Regional.
Did you figure out that riddle?
There’s a curtain over the trap door. If you still didn’t get it, Miyataki will solve the riddle for you.
“They didn’t put down the four games on the schedule. We have a total of nine games,” he said. “This week will determine those four games.”
If the Vulcans win two games, no need for another series next week in Hilo.
It’s pack your bags, Vulcans, for the West Regional, set for May 18-20 at Azusa Pacific. The Cougars already secured the Southern California pod, so a bit of a nice home-field advantage for them.
If the Sharks win 4 of 5, they’ll be in a must-win scenario next week against an injury-plagued UHH team.
Junior left-handed ace Kyle Alcorn (2-2, 2.61 ERA) will be back. But No. 2 starter Cameron Scudder (0-1, 2.61 ERA), a junior left-hander, is still out.
Freshman left-hander Aaron Davies (0-0, 1.45 ERA) will take Scudder’s spot, followed by senior right-hander Christian Sadler (3-0, 1.20 ERA), freshman right-hander Christian DeJesus (1-2, 5.65 ERA) and a bullpen by committee in the last game.
“Alcorn is back. That’s a big plus,” said Miyataki, who can feel confident in Sadler, who threw a one-hitter against HPU on April 17. “Sadler has done some wonderful things for us. We knew he could start. He came in as a starter, got roughed up a little bit, but is back to his old form. That’s a big plus. He’s showing maturity on the mound. He gives us some life. The series should be fun.”
Asked about his lineup’s health, Miyataki lets out a big laugh. He could do his own Abbott and Costello Who’s on first? act by himself.
“We’ll see what we can do. Our bench has a lot of experience, and they’re going to get a lot more,” he said. “We can’t afford any more injuries. But we’re optimistic.”
Junior catcher Jaryn Kanbara (.219 batting average, .536 OPS) and sophomore first baseman Kobie Russell (.205, .564) are progressing from leg injuries. Freshman designated hitter Ryan Cho (.286, .804) is out with a wrist injury. Junior second baseman Lawson Faria (.290, .776) and senior left fielder John Bicos (.159, .659) are also battling injuries.
In the age of analytics, it’s OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) that best defines the value of a player, measuring players who get on base and slug the ball to get in scoring position and drive runners in.
Junior catcher Teppei Fukuda (.276, .629) shares duties with Kanbara, freshman Braeden Coloma (.357, .929) has started three games at first base, junior Gaven Palagonia (.200, .615) has started eight games at second, and junior Mason Campbell (.214, .639) has started 15 games at designated hitter.
“Basically, we’ll see what we’re made of,” Miyataki said. “We’ll find out how strong our bench is. We’re confident we can put things together and give them a good run. It’s been a journey for both teams, and we know each other. It’s a matter of who makes the least amount of mistakes will come out on top at this point.”
Miyataki has a practical outlook on baseball and life in general. When asked the significance of his Vulcans winning two games and reaching the postseason for the first time since 1989, he gave a practical answer.
“To just be able to beyond the pod gives us something to play for, to strive for,” he said. “It gives us an outside chance to get somewhere.”
OK, now it’s time to get really practical.
If this were the old days, the West Regional would include three AQ berths to the PacWest, GNAC and CCAA champions. The other five at-large spots would be determined by the West Region poll. In the past, the Vulcans in all sports often got the short end of the stick when they were very strong candidates for at-large bids. UHH softball coach Callen Perreira would be first in line.
But in the coronavirus era, there are three PacWest pods: Hawaii, North, and South California.
If you put practicality on the bench for a brief a while, here are some hard facts: Miyataki turned the program around much like UHH basketball coach Kaniela Aiona, who in his first year snapped a nine-year losing skid.
Both changed the culture 180 degrees and got the all-important buy-in from the players to practice hard, work hard, play hard and think team first. Miyataki broke UHH’s 26-year losing streak — the longest in collegiate baseball that covered the NAIA and Division I and II levels. The first 21 years came under former coach Joey Estrella while Miyataki had five losing seasons before the skid stopped in 2019 with a 21-19 record.
That was history making for Miyataki and his Vulcans. They have a chance to make history again with two more wins.