By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo baseball team went down swinging — literally — putting up a good fight, but still suffering its fourth one-run loss of the season.
Hawaii Pacific capitalized on an error in the 10th inning and defeated the Vulcans 6-5 in the first game of a Pacific West Conference doubleheader Thursday night at Wong Stadium.
In the second game, HPU blanked UHH 2-0 behind Joshua Garcia’s five-hitter. Keanu Kapana batted 2 for 3 to lead the Sea Warriors (9-3, 2-0 PacWest).
Seamus Yoneshige went four innings and allowed two runs in the loss. John Abreu went 2 for 3 to lead the Vuls (3-11, 2-8).
There’s an old baseball idiom that walks eventually turn into runs. Baseball sabermetricians would add that those percentages increase when an error follows.
As it was, UHH reliever Sheldon Shishido walked Marvin Campbell and gave up a single to Kale Sumner. Russell Doi singled and left fielder Greg Cleary committed a fielding error.
Campbell scored the game’s only unearned run. The Sea Warriors made two harmless errors. The Vuls had three errors, only the last one came back to bite them.
Shishido had nice numbers — two innings, one unearned run, on two hits and one walk and two strikeouts — but he still took the loss.
Dane Kinoshita got tagged for three runs in the first, and two in the fifth; otherwise he threw up goose eggs. His line was eight innings, six runs on six hits and four walks and four strikeouts.
Steffen Miner went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and Abreu and Will Thayper paired hits for the Vuls, who stranded 13 on base; the Sea Warriors left eight on base.
Doi went 3 for 5 with two RBIs and Nick Woodward picked up the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“We battled on equal ground. We gave up a three-spot in the first, battled and took the lead (4-3 after four innings), and we put ourselves in situations where we could have won,” UHH coach Joey Estrella said. “That’s all a coach can ask for. We didn’t come through. That’s baseball.”
In the bottom of the 10th, the Vuls threatened with two out against right-hander Pulama Silva, who surrendered a double to Abreu and a walk to Cleary.
Then up stepped third baseman Sam Kim, who entered the game with a .293 batting average, third-best on the team. (Freshman first baseman Keenan Nishioka was tops with a .452 average (19 for 42; he went 0 for 2 with a walk and run in Game 1.)
Kim’s last at-bat was a highlight of protecting the plate and fighting to the last strike. He fell behind on a 1-2 count and then the cat-and-mouse game began.
He fouled off a sidearm slider. Then he yanked a foul ball. He next fouled a ball over the first-base dugout. He didn’t bite on a high fastball, the fourth straight outside pitch.
It was 2-2, the count even, but the pitcher still psychologically ahead with another strike to play with. It was the best time to throw what Greg Maddux used to call his favorite pitch — a ball that looks like a strike.
After feeding Kim pitch after pitch on the outside corner, Sumner fired an inside fastball. Maybe ball three and a full count to follow. But maybe too close to take too.
UHH’s third baseman took the safe route and swung. But he couldn’t get his hands to whip the bat head around in time. He went down swinging for an 0-for-6 collar.
Mark MacDonald, a former Vulcan who coaches and teaches in Southern California, recommended Kim to Estrella a couple of years ago. Kim transferred from Irvine (Calif.) Valley Junior College.
“Mark said Sam could hit. We’ve still got former Vulcans in coaching who are giving us leads,” Estrella said.
Kim, with a strong arm and soft hands at third base, is only a sophomore and looks entrenched at the position — unless he goes into a prolonged hitting or fielding slump (he’s got two errors in 19 chances for .905 fielding percentage).
He’s also a road block for Korin Medeiros, a 2012 Waiakea graduate and the second of Estrella’s homegrown recruits; Nishioka, from Hilo High, is the other.
“Korin got hurt, sprained his wrist, in the intrasquad game before the alumni game,” Estrella said. “We’re excited about having him. It would be perfect if he redshirted and was a freshman when Sam is a junior.”
It’s Estrella’s last season, so it’ll be another coach’s call. But before he closed the door on that subject, Estrella noted sport’s other famous idiom: that competition brings out the best in everyone.
And sometimes players rise to the occasion or in Nishioka’s case step to the plate against better competition. Estrella is hoping the same for his team.
“I’m real pleased with his progress and that’s a tribute to him,” Estrella said. “His transition to college from high school has been really outstanding. He’s been able to focus. I knew he could hit. He’s gotten pretty good pitches to hit and he hasn’t missed.
“The conference has gotten better every year with the teams that have been added. Our team has good resolve and we’re going to break out soon. When that happens, we’re going to be a good ballclub to watch.”