The Rainbow Warriors’ onslaught was too much for the visiting UCI baseball team (17-30, 4-12), as the ‘Eaters dropped the series opener 6-2 to Big West foe Hawai’i (26-17, 8-8) at Les Murakami Stadium on Friday night.
The dearth of slugging and run production has had a direct impact on the ‘Eaters’ win-loss record as of late, as they have put up more than four runs in only four of their last 13 games en route to only three wins in that span.
The struggle continued in their first game in Hawai’i, where only senior Evan Cassolato was able to notch an extra-base hit while their counterparts mashed six on the night, including five doubles and a home run.
Freshman Adrian Damla, who has proven to be a steady left-handed bat in the middle of the ‘Eaters’ lineup despite his young age, helped UCI break a scoreless tie in the second inning after a one-out single and subsequent steal put him in scoring position. Fellow freshman Christian Koss was able to come through with a single to centerfield under the pressure of two outs that would score Damla, putting UCI up 1-0.
Hawai’i kicked off a streak of four straight innings with a run scored in the bottom of the fourth, touching up UCI junior starter Louis Raymond for three hits, including two doubles that would result in two runs for the home team.
An error from the Rainbow Warriors allowed the ‘Eaters to score an unearned run and tie it up 2-2 in the fifth, but some shoddy fielding in the bottom of the frame put Hawai’i back in front as junior Chayce Ka’aua advanced to third all the way from first on a failed pickoff attempt and eventually scored to make it 3-2 Hawai’i.
Senior Josh Rojas of Hawai’i kept things rolling for his team in the sixth, sending a two-run shot down the right field line and stretched the lead to 5-2. Raymond finished the inning, but would be replaced for the seventh and was tagged with his fifth loss of the year. He allowed seven hits, four earned runs and two walks over his six innings of work and struck out four.
Freshman Ryan Johnston took over the pitching duties for the ‘Eaters, but allowed two doubles and a walk in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Rainbow Warriors a 6-2 advantage. Junior Michael Martin came on to pitch the eighth and shut off the faucet, but the offense did little to make it a contest, totaling six hits on the game and only three from the third inning onward.
Hawai’i senior Brendan Hornung, who sports a sub-3.00 ERA for the Rainbow Warriors, stymied the ‘Eaters over seven innings and 103 pitches, allowing a lone earned run and six hits while striking out four and walking two.
Senior Casey Ryan came on for two innings of shutout relief, and the Rainbow Warriors would hold on for the 6-2 win.
UCI senior Keston Hiura continues to be a bright spot for the scant offensive production, as he tallied another walk and a hit in Friday’s contest. He currently leads the nation in on-base percentage at .551 and is top-five in batting average at a whopping .405, all while slamming eight homers and driving in 34 runs as he eyes a first-round selection in the upcoming MLB Draft.
The ‘Eaters have their work cut out for them if they plan on winning a conference series this year, as they must take the remaining two at Hawai’i, where the Rainbow Warriors are 18-12 this season.
Only a series at UC Riverside and a homestand against UC Davis provide another opportunity before the year comes to an end.
Hawai’i and UCI will take the field again Sunday night at 8 p.m. Pacific Time and will conclude the series on Monday evening.