Na Koa Ikaika tops host Stars
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The stage was set for a Hollywood happy ending for the Hawaii Stars on Sunday in their last home game of the Pacific Association season: two out, two runners on, down 4-2 in the last inning, and the winning run at the plate.
But the Na Koa Ikaika Maui had other ideas in mind. Reliever Chris Mobley was on the mound and got Dustin Smith to ground out to shortstop, earning the save and preserving the win for a hard-working Jesse Smith.
Game over and cue the farewell music, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” as the fans took to the field to shake hands, take pictures and bid the Stars goodbye until they’re back again, hopefully, by next year.
The Stars (25-36-1) and Na Koa (40-25) resume their interisland rivalry at 5:35 p.m. Wednesday at Iron Maehara Stadium on Maui. The game will be streamed live on pointstreak.com.
Several Stars shined in their last game at home. Katsuaki Furuki batted 3 for 4 and had two RBIs, raising his batting average to .311. Mitch Levier went 2 for 5, bumping is BA to .205.
Jeremy Williams continued to to crumple up Hawaii’s pitchers, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs. During the five-game series, the Maui outfielder went 10 for 21, improving his BA to .318.
Most of Hawaii’s relievers had productive outings. Cortney Arruda, Bryan Escanio and Mike Jackson Jr. each fired a scoreless inning. Devon Ramirez gave up an unearned run in one inning.
It was a mixed bag for Reece Alnas, who entered in the seventh, walked the first batter he faced and was given the hook. Ramirez replaced him and that runner scored.
However, the run was unearned, maintaining Alnas’ flawless 0.00 ERA. In 10 2/3 innings, he has allowed zero earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He’s whiffed eight, after starting the year as an outfielder and making a midseason pitching conversion.
Hawaii’s Matt Stropoli pitched pretty good, with five innings of two-run ball, but still took the loss, leaving with a 2-1 deficit. But Smith was much better: 8 1/3 innings of two-run ball on eight hits and two walks, with five strikeouts.
“I emphasize on keeping the ball low because I’m a sinkerball pitcher,” said Smith, a sixth-round draft of the Angels in 2003, who reached Triple A in 2007, his age 26 season. “It’s always been a goal to get back into affiliated ball since I was drafted 10 years ago.
“But at this point I’m 33 years old and I like to go out and compete. I enjoy the competition, the camaraderie with the guys and enjoy being on the team. I’m throwing the ball well, and I love Hawaii.”
Last season, Smith was the league’s pitcher of the year. The 6-foot-2 right-hander went 10-2 with a 1.33 ERA in 108 1/3 innings. He put up great numbers, but his age works against him.
On the flip side of the coin, Escanio, from Puerto Rico, is young at 21 and also blessed with a flame-throwing arm. The 6-1 righty was in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system from 2009 until last year when he got caught in a numbers game.
“They told me I had a great arm, but they didn’t have a place for me,” said Escanio, who’s 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings with 37 strikeouts and 15 walks. He’s surrendered only 19 hits.
Like Smith, Escanio’s goal is to get back into affiliated ball. But that type of thinking can wait. He was busy taking pictures and enjoying the last-home-game atmosphere.
“I appreciate the support of the fans. Puerto Rico is an island, too, and I’ve enjoyed my time here,” Escanio said. “Hilo is a great place to have fun and play baseball. In baseball, you can never be comfortable. I want to keep pushing myself.”
Hawaii manager Garry Templeton II is a great hitter when it comes to putting things in a nutshell. Asked to sum up the significance of the Stars’ last home game, he hit the nail on the head, and another homer as the lyrics, “Good times never felt so good,” played over Buddy Loeffler’s sound system.
“You can’t beat being in Hawaii. That’s a given,” G2 said. “The guys appreciate the opportunity to come out here and play on a nice field, for a good owner and front office and for the fans.”
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