By KEVIN JAKAHI
When he had a chance to catch his breath, Kallen Miyataki had one thought on his mind. Well, maybe more than one.
The eighth-year UH-Hilo baseball coach finally marked off the checkboxes to his strategic mission: Preparation, opportunity, and success.
The Vulcans beat Hawaii Pacific 6-4 to clinch the Hawaii pod title Saturday at Les Murakami Stadium, securing a trip to the PacWest automatic qualifier pod series at Azusa Pacific, May 20-22.
It’s been a roller coaster ride to reach the postseason for the first time since 1989 when the Vulcans went to the NAIA World Series.
After closer John Kea shut down the Sharks in the ninth for his fifth save and stopped UHH’s five-game losing streak, Miyataki immediately felt exhilaration, exhaustion, satisfaction?
“It’s a relief,” he said. “We needed to go through a lot to build character and understand adversity. It’s life lessons when you go through things. You have to be persistent for things that you want and not give up. The kids were focused. It’s a credit to them and the coaching staff and our trainer Kensei Gibbs.”
The player with the biggest impact back from injury was catcher Jaryn Kanbara, who neutralized HPU’s running game.
When he was out, the Vulcans (13-12, 13-9 PacWest) lost four in a row, and the Sharks (9-17, 9-13) went 5 of 6 on steal attempts.
On Friday, HPU defeated UHH 5-3, but Kanbara gunned down two steal attempts. Who said Sharks aren’t smart? They made no steal attempts on Saturday.
“The big thing was Kanbara. Hat’s off to him,” Miyataki said. “He solidified the defense and made the pitchers feel comfortable. He did all the things he needed to do to have them perform at their level.”
The Vulcans scored two runs in the top of the seventh to break a 3-3 tie. Casey Yamauchi was hit by a pitch, stole second and Kanbara was hit by a pitch by HPU’s closer Grant Dragmire, who was in his second inning of work.
Kobie Russell singled to load the bases, and Dragmire was replaced by Tyler DeYoung, who gave up an RBI sacrifice fly to Chris Aubort for a 4-3 UHH lead.
Braeden Coloma, whose dad Kele Coloma, a right-hander beat No. 1 USC 2-1 in 1993, pinch hit and drew a walk to reload the bases.
Then the Sharks beat themselves and handed the Vulcans a gift and a 5-3 lead when DeYoung threw a wild pitch.
HPU wouldn’t go away quietly and scored a run in the bottom of the seventh off Takashi Umino, who got the win with 2 2/3 innings of one-run relief.
In the eighth, Brandyn Yoshida walked, went to second on a groundout, and scored on Trey Yukumoto’s RBI single to left for a 6-4 UHH lead.
UHH freshman Aaron Davies started and pitched three innings of two-run ball. Jonathan Buhl pitched 1 2/3 innings of one-run relief.
In the fifth, with runners on first and third and two out, Ty Honda replaced Buhl and got DJ Stephens on a 3-0 flyout to preserve a 3-3 tie.
Cody Hirata, Honda’s old Waiakea teammate, recorded an out in the sixth before Umino came in as a bridge to Kea.
Maxime Beaulieu started for the Sharks and pitched 3 2/3 innings of three-run ball. He was one of five HPU pitchers on the day.
Hitting was contagious for the Vulcans who piled up 12 hits. Aubort had three hits, Yukumoto, Russell, and John Bicos each paired hits, and Yamauchi was on base three times and scored two runs.
UHH will open the PacWest pod series against Academy of Art (15-17, 13-11) at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Cougars field.
UHH, Azusa Pacific and the Urban Knights will play each other twice over the three days, and the team with the best record earns the PacWest’s bid to the NCAA West Regional.
The Vulcans fly home on the last flight on Sunday, and before that Miyataki was breathing normally and back to his practical self.
“It’s a great opportunity to see another team after playing HPU 22 times,” he said. “This really helps our community. I believe our community has put us in this position and given us this success. I’m happy for our whole family, the players, coaches, and the community, and everyone else.”