On a scrambled egg Saturday, the strength of the UH-Hilo baseball team — the bullpen — was beaten not once but twice by Hawaii Pacific.
The Sharks edged the Vulcans 5-4 and 5-4 in a PacWest Hawaii pod doubleheader at Les Murakami Stadium, preventing UHH from clinching a berth to the postseason.
UHH’s season-long blueprint has been to get timely hits to take a lead or rally from a deficit, rely on decent starting pitching, and hand off a lead to Brandyn Lee-Lehano and John Kea.
But HPU scrambled those plans with late-inning rallies against Lee-Lehano in Game 1 and Kea in Game 2.
“It was a tough one,” UHH coach Kallen Miyataki said. “They had the timely hits, and we didn’t. I thought we had the back-end pitching, but we didn’t execute. It is what it is.
“It was close and back and forth, and we’ve seen each other enough. It’s whoever executes, and they were a little better. And we didn’t, so hat’s off to them.”
In Game 1, Lee-Lehano entered in the eighth with a 4-4 tie that quickly unraveled. He gave up a one-out double to Richard Higa, who advanced to third on catcher Teppei Fukuda’s passed ball.
Braxton Wehrle walked on a 3-2 count and advanced to second on a wild pitch, which scored Higa for an unearned run.
Gavin Pringle (2-1) pitched three scoreless innings for the win. He allowed two hits and whiffed two.
Cole Mayeshiro started and pitched six innings of four-run ball (two unearned) and held UHHh to three hits.
Miyataki gave senior Christian Sadler the start and a chance to secure the Hawaii pod automatic qualifier. The senior right-hander pitched four innings and gave up four runs (one unearned) on six hits and one walk and struck out one.
Jarrod Kaneshiro walked a batter in the fifth, but UHH’s relievers Takashi Umino and Cody Hirata provided three shutout innings.
Higa batted 2 for 4 with two runs scored an RBI to lead the Sharks, who piled up 10 hits and stole three bases.
In Game 2, HPU rallied for three runs off Kea in the sixth to pull out another 5-4 win in a seven-inning game.
Kea entered in the sixth with a runner on second and no out with UHH ahead 4-2 in place of Aaron Davies.
DJ Stephens hit an RBI double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Cole Kashimoto was hit by a pitch and stole second. Haydon Huff walked on a 3-1 count to load the bases.
After a foul out to first for the second out, Higa reached on an RBI fielder’s choice that tied it 4-4. Noah Blythe hit an RBI double on an 0-2 count to put the Sharks ahead 5-4.
In UHH’s last at-bat in the seventh, HPU closer Grant Dragmire retired the side for the save. Tyler DeYoung got two outs for the win.
Davies went five innings and gave up three runs in the no-decision. Kea allowed two runs in an inning for the loss.
Blythe had three hits to lead the Sharks, who had seven hits.
UHH’s bats were held to just two hits.
The Vulcans 12-9, 12-6 PacWest) and Sharks (6-16, 6-12) play another doubleheader at 11 a.m. Sunday to close the series.
UHH freshman right-hander Christian DeJesus (1-2, 5.65 ERA) will start in the first game, and a bullpen by committee will go in the second game. In DeJesus’ last appearance against HPU on April 18, he fired 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball in a 4-3 loss.
If the Vuls win one more game, they earn a berth to the three-team PacWest pod tournament, set for May 20-22 at Azusa Pacific. The winner gets a spot at the West Regional.
To deny UHH that AQ, HPU would need to win six in a row, including a four-game series at UHH next week. If UHH wins the AQ, the Hilo series won’t be scheduled.
On Friday, UHH got one of the two wins, a 6-4 victory, needed this weekend to earn the automatic qualifier for the postseason for the first time since 1989 when the Vulcans went to the NAIA World Series.
Kyle Alcorn pitched 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball for the win. Alcorn (3-2) allowed six hits and three walks and whiffed two.
He left in the sixth with two on and two out. Takashi Umino got a first-pitch flyout to end the threat to hold UHH’s 4-2 lead.
The Sharks scored a run in the seventh off Lee-Lehano, who surrendered a run on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. Kea fired 1 1/3 innings of one-run relief for his fourth save.
Brandon Peterson (1-4) went 4 1/3 innings and gave up four runs in the loss. Stone Parker followed with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Dragmire pitched two innings, gave up two runs, and threw 34 pitches.
Casey Yamauchi batted 4 for 5 with two runs and an RBI, Mason Campbell went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, while Chris Aubort, Braeden Coloma, and Trey Yukumoto each had an RBI for the Vulcans, who left seven on base.
Higa went 2 for 5 with two RBIs to lead the Sharks, who stranded nine on base.
The Vulcans went to the NAIA World Series in 1989, under retired coach Joey Estrella, when they went 0-2 for the third time in four years.
UHH then had two more winning seasons before beginning a 26-year record collegiate losing streak that covered the NAIA and Division I and II levels. The skid was stopped in 2019 with a 26-19 record, Miyataki’s sixth season.