By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ronnie Loeffler pitched a gem, and the Hawaii Stars’ bats woke up from a long hibernation to upstage Na Koa Ikaika Maui pitcher Eri “Knuckle Princess” Yoshida’s mound debut on Saturday night at Wong Stadium.
Yoshida’s pitches indeed floated like a butterfly, but the Stars eventually timed her knucklers and peppered enough basehits for an 8-3 win in a North American Baseball League game that lasted a mere 2 hours and 12 minutes.
The Stars (11-12) and Na Koa Ikaika (12-11) conclude the six-game series at 1:35 p.m. today at Wong.
In his last start, Loeffler was roughed up for nine earned runs on 10 hits in five innings in Hawaii’s 12-1 loss to the San Rafael Pacifics.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander rebounded with a fastball that stings like a bee, using his heater to set up his off-speed stuff and tame Maui’s bats.
He allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks, and struck out two. Loeffler is now 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA, suddenly riding an upswing like the Stars, who have won two straight.
“We hit the ball and had a lot of runs scored and that made me really comfortable,” he said. “I thew the ball in there and let my defense make plays.
“Eri did an awesome job. Her knuckleball is nothing like I’ve ever seen. It floats like a butterfly. But our guys came to play and we peppered her instead of swinging hard. That helped us stay back and hit the ball. It was a good way for me to come back after the San Rafael trip.”
Yoshida (3-1, 3.60 ERA) pitched shutout ball through the first three innings, and struck out three. She pitches from the stretch, and her knuckleball dances in both directions.
The Stars scored three runs in the fourth and fifth innings off her, concentrating on making contact instead of trying to King Kong one of her slow floaters over the coconut trees beyond the fences.
Steve Tedesco hit her first pitch of the fourth inning. Matt Hibbert was next and also hit the first pitch on a hit-and-run. Antony Lopez had an RBI single on a 1-2 pitch, and Brendan Davis followed with a first-pitch, run-scoring single. Jason Thomas grounded into a double play for the other run.
In the fifth, Angel Sanchez singled on a first pitch, Keoni Manago walked, and Tedesco reached on a fielder’s choice RBI. One batter later, Lopez dribbled a ball to second baseman Gered Mochizuki, whose throwing error produced two runs. Lopez was thrown out at third.
Tedesco, Hibbert, Lopez, and Davis — the first four Hawaii hitters — all finished with two hits apiece, giving the offense a healthy dose of production.
Yoshida took the loss in five innings. She allowed six runs (two unearned) on eight hits and one walk.
“She had her ‘A’ game,” Maui catcher Logan Kanamu said. “She threw a lot of strikes but they came out and put the ball in play. They had a lot of bloop singles. There was nothing she could have done any better.”
The curiosity aspect aside, Yoshida is a much-needed entertainment value in an independent league, at least for the franchises in Hilo and Maui, still trying to find its footing. Saturday’s attendance was in the 500 crowd range.
She was also effective, at least for the first three innings. Yoshida’s three strikeouts were of the swing and miss by a mile type. The patrons gladly applauded each punchout.
“She has a lot of side to side movement,” Kanamu said. “I don’t know if it’s going in or out, so I set up in the middle of the plate and let the ball do its work.”
Hawaii 3, Maui 2: In a scheduled seven-inning game that lasted twice as long, Arnoldo Ponce walked with the bases loaded off second baseman-turned-emergency-pitcher Kalaika Kahoohalahala to bring in the winning run.
The 14-inning marathon lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes and included 10 pitchers, seven for Maui and three for Hawaii. Cortney Arruda, the last of the Hawaii pitchers, earned the win with one-run relief over three innings.
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Hawaii 000 330 02x — 8 11 0