UHH baseball primed for new challenge at PacWest pod series

  • KELSEY WALLING UH-Hilo's baseball team hopes more high-fives are on tap Thursday as Vulcans being play at the PacWest pod series against Academy of Art.

No offense to Hawaii Pacific, but for UH-Hilo baseball, it’s good to get away.

“Refreshing and exciting,” coach Kallen Miyataki said Wednesday by telephone on the eve of the PacWest pod series in Azusa, Calif, where UHH will play on the mainland and in front of fans for the first time this season. “Having this opportunity, we are where we want to be.”

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For any Vulcans pitchers who may have grown tired of facing the same Sharks hitters again and again, meet Azusa Pacific, and at its hitter-friendly ballpark, no less. The Cougars (29-8), ranked 17th nationally, are the definitive favorite in the three-team, round-robin, regional-qualifying tournament. Azusa has swatted 85 home runs this season, and Tuesday it tied a PacWest mark by putting 11 players on the all-league teams (first or second), including player of the year Osvaldo Tovalin (.442 average, 10 home runs, 36 RBIs in conference play). A.J. Woodall (7-0, 2.15 ERA) was the PacWest pitcher of the year.

The Cougars are largely the same team that UHH split a four-game series against at Wong Stadium in 2020 before season was shut down, Miyataki said.

“They are just a year older and a lot bigger,” he said. “They are nationally ranked for a reason.”

“We know what we are up against.”

In other respects, the Vuls (14-12) don’t, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

They open play at the pod series at 1 p.m. Thursday (Hawaii time) against Academy of Art (13-11), the NorCal pod champion. The Vuls and Urban Knights haven’t met since UHH swept a four-game series at Wong in 2019.

“It’s a school that always changes every two years,” Miyataki said. “We don’t recognize the names. It’s going to be fun. We tried to get reports on them. It’s a lot of new players.”

He described his pitching philosophy at the pod series as “two starters and everybody else get ready and go.”

Ace left-hander Kyle Alcorn (3-2, 3.26 ERA) will start Friday morning against the Cougars, with Brandyn Lee-Lehano (3-2, 5.40) getting the nod Thursday against Academy of Art. UHH faces the Urban Knights in the second end of a doubleheader Friday, and though Miyataki is taking it “one game at a time,” he’d probably be thrilled if the Vuls’ contest Saturday against Azusa to finish the series was a winner-take-all to reach West Regional.

The Vuls were represented on the all-PacWest team by third baseman Trey Yukumoto (second team) and Alcorn (third). The son of associate head coach Garett Yukumoto, Trey led the Vulcans in hitting (.370) and was second in runs scored (14) and RBIs (14).

Healthier than it had been in weeks, UHH rescued its season last weekend, beating HPU to end a five-game slide and win the Hawaii pod.

Azusa may be definitive favorite, but for UHH, it’s good to get away.

“It’s always great to rebound, and I think we had to learn to believe in ourselves and be persistent in the things we needed to accomplish,” Miyataki said. “Now we have new challenge ahead.”

Thursday

Academy of Art at Azusa Pacific, 9 a.m.

UH-Hilo vs. Academy of Art, 1 p.m.

Friday

Azusa Pacific vs. UH-Hilo, 9 a.m.

Academy of Art vs. UH-Hilo, 1 p.m.

Saturday

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Azusa Pacific vs. Academy of Art, 9 a.m.

UH-Hilo vs. Academy of Art, 1 p.m.

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