Vulcans Spoil Opportunities in Loss to #21 Lancers
The University of Hawaii at Hilo baseball team took some strides in fixing their offensive struggles Monday, but failed to capitalize on many opportunities throughout the game in a 6-3 loss to 21st-ranked Cal Baptist in a PacWest conference tilt.
The loss extended the Vulcans’ losing streak to nine games. Joey Estrella’s squad dropped to 4-14 overall on the season and 1-8 in conference play. Unlike the last several losses, the Vulcans showed signs of life and improvement that had been absent in the last series.
For starters, freshman Jeremy Dela Cruz pitched three good innings against one of the top offensive teams in the conference. He allowed a hit in each of the first three innings, but was able to strand that baserunner each time.
The fourth inning was Dela Cruz’s undoing. The youngster plunked the first two men he faced to start the inning, then allowed a single to Cal Baptist’s Andy Crowley that loaded the bases. On the very next pitch, Lancer outfielder Zach Esquerra drove in Matt Daugherty and Blair Moore with a two-run single to put his team on the scoreboard. Two batters later, Andrew Montoya dropped a squeeze bunt that scored Crowley, extending the lead to 3-0. Then, with two out, Luke Esquerra droped a beautiful bunt-turned-infield single up the third base line that scored another run, making it a 4-0 Cal Baptist lead.
The Vulcans would attempt to mount a comeback against undefeated starter Jon Bengard, who came into the game with a stellar 6-0 record. UHH chipped away at the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when Bengard threw his pickoff attempt at second base into center field, allowing Joshua Wong to score from third base, cutting the Cal Baptist lead to 4-1.
In the home half of the fifth, Bengard’s wild throwing aided UHH’s comeback effort again. With runners at the corners, Steven Riddle hit a soft bouncer to the left side of the pitcher’s mound. Instead of throwing home to throw out the runner trying to score, Bengard tried to go to second to start a double play. Instead, he threw the ball into center field again, allowing Keenan Kaluau to score. Wong followed with a sacrifice fly RBI to drive in pinch hitter Jeremy Kaaukai, narrowing the score to 4-3.
The Vulcans would struggle to cash in on future opportunities after that. In the sixth, UHH loaded the bases after pinch hitter Travis Stancil reached on a single. Two batters later, Tyler Nitahara walked, and two batters after that, Jordan Murai slapped a single to shallow right field. With two out, Kaaukai grounded out to third base, leaving the bases loaded.
In the seventh, Riddle led off with a base hit up the left field line, but was thrown out when he tried to extend the single to a double. After Wong reached base on a single, Tyson Goo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.
UHH reliever Casey Bohlmann came in to start the fifth inning and was stellar until running into trouble in the eighth inning. After giving up a pair of leadoff hits in that frame, Blair Moore’s sacrifice fly scored Matt Marnati to make the score 5-3. The next batter, Crowley, socked a double deep to center field. Daugherty attempted to score from first base, running through a stop sign, but the relay throw home found catcher Nitahara on the third base side of the plate. Nitahara secured the ball and absorbed the hit he got in the collision with Daugherty, stopping him from scoring and keeping his team’s deficit at two runs.
Once again, the Vulcans got two men on in their half of the eighth inning, thanks to an Austin Cusack walk and a Kaluau single. With two out, however, Murai grounded out to relief pitcher Andy Abrams to keep the Vulcans from adding to the scoreboard.
Cal Baptist was able to score an unearned run in the top of the ninth, when Luke Esquerra singled through the right side of the infield. Right fielder Tyson Goo inexplicably misplayed the ball rolling toward him, allowing it to get behind him. The fielding error allowed Cole Bullard to score from first base to extend the lead to three, which is the way the score would stand.
The Vulcans loss spoiled a 4-for-4 day by Wong, who drove in a run and scored another run. Kaluau also had a fine day at the plate, going 3-for-4 and scoring a run. However, the Vulcans stranded 11 runners on base, matching the amount of hits they had on the evening.
Note: The series continues Tuesday with a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. at Wong Stadium. The final game of the series will be played on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Wednesday’s game will be aired on the Big Island’s ESPN Radio and streamed at ESPNHawaii.com.
Cal Baptist 000 400 011 – 6 12 2
Hawaii-Hilo 000 120 000 – 3 11 1
WP: Jon Bengard (7-0) LP: Jeremy Dela Cruz (0-2) S: Andy Abrams (1)