Hawaiian Baseball Hits Santa Barbara

Center fielder Matt Wong started senior week with a bang — two, in fact — as Hawaii struck out 18 UC Santa Barbara batters in Thursday’s 17-1 baseball win at Les Murakami Stadium.

A crowd of 1,527 saw Wong hit two home runs; shortstop Jordan Donahue accumulates four hits and drives in three runs; Harry Gustin struck out a career-high nine in five innings, and reliever Alex Giroux fanned the first eight Gauchos he faced. The ‘Bows had 18 hits, drew 10 walks against six pitchers and capitalized on three UCSB errors, including two on one play to drive in two runners in a five-run sixth run.

By winning the opener of a season-ending three-game series, the Rainbow Warriors improved to 27-20 overall and 16-12 in the Big West. They posted their second straight winning season in the conference, posting sub-.500 records in their first nine years as members of the Big West.

The ‘Bows were also spoilers, denying UCSB a shot at the Big West regular season title. The Gauchos fell to 35-18 and 18-10, and are mathematically eliminated from hosting inactive UC San Diego (21-9) in the final week of the Big West season. Because UCSD is ineligible for the postseason while in the transition period to Division I, the Gauchos still have a chance to secure the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament if they finish as runners-up. Cal State Fullerton is second at 19-9 and has the tiebreaker over the Gauchos.

Due to medical difficulties and a COVID-19 waiver, Wong, who missed two seasons due to ACL injuries, was allowed to return to UH for his sixth season. He made a strong impact to open his final tenure as ‘Bow’.

Wong hit his ninth home run of the season to lead off the Bows’ six-run second inning. Wong led off the third with his 10th home run. The last UH player with double-digit home runs was first baseman/designated hitter Jeff Van Doornum in 2010.

The ‘Bows were able to outrun a league-leading opponent in home runs (84) and sort out a pitching staff that began the week with the fifth-best ERA in the nation (3.76). Stepping into the ace role, Matt Ager had a 2.57 ERA, held opposing hitters to a .198 average and racked up 11.18 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 14 starts.

In the first inning, Ager retired the first three arcs on 13 pitches to hold on to a 1-0 lead. But then Wong’s home run to opposite field to right to lead off the second UH seemed to pull the string that undid Ager.

Aaron Ujimori singled in a run and DallasJ Duarte hit a two-run single up the middle to make it 4-1. Ager then unleashed a wild pitch that went all the way as Donahue scored from third on the Bows’ fifth run. Stone Miyao’s RBI single forced Ager’s earliest ejection (1 1/3 innings) of the season.

Wong’s second home run of the game, also over the right-field fence, sparked a third three-run run to extend the Bows’ lead to 9-1. Donahue’s rule double brought home a run and Duarte, after an appeal, was ruled that he had advanced a throw to first for an RBI single.

Gustin allowed six hits and struck out a career-high nine in the first five innings to improve to 5-3. After Aaron Parker’s bases-loaded single gave the Gauchos a 1–0 first-inning lead, Gustin induced a late-inning double play. In the second, the gauchos loaded the bases with two outs. But Gustin struck out Christian Kirtley to end the threat without any damage. After issuing a leadoff walk to Evan Brethowr in the third, Gustin retired the next nine Gauchos, five striking out, before Parker’s single to start the sixth.