Entering their final home series matchup of the season, the UC San Diego Tritons (23–27, 12–12 Big West) were set to face off against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (24–21, 15–9 Big West). The first game displayed a strong performance by the away team, with Hawaii managing to never lose a lead in the game after their dominating 4–0 start, and even with the Tritons making a valiant ninth-inning comeback rally effort, Hawaii was able to come away with the opening game win in this series, winning 7–4.
The first two innings went entirely in Hawaii’s favor, as they established a very quick and commanding 4–0 lead. The first two runs at the top of the first inning were brought in by Hawaii centerfielder Cole Cabrera on a two-run homer deep into leftfield in just the second at-bat of the game. Hawaii carried this strong opening momentum into the top of the second inning, in which the Rainbow Warriors landed 4 hits against the freshman pitcher for UCSD, Austin Smith, and were able to bring in two more runs on those 4 hits, increasing Hawaii’s early lead to 4–0 in the second inning. The junior starting pitcher for Hawaii, Blaze Koali’i Pontes, dominated at the mound for the Rainbow Warriors to start the game, having 2 strikeouts and allowing no hits by the Tritons throughout the first two innings.
At the top of the third, junior pitcher Aren Alvarez, in relief of Austin Smith, was able to keep the Hawaii batters in check, allowing only 1 hit and no runs for the Rainbow Warriors. The Tritons were then able to close the gap in the bottom of the third, scoring on a triple by sophomore right-fielder Luke Saunders, a double by junior third baseman Jalen Smith, and a single by junior left-fielder Marc Filia, all of which came in consecutive at-bats for the Tritons. The Rainbow Warriors then proceeded to get their third out of the inning after tagging out Filia at second base, but the Tritons had now made their first mark in the game with 5 hits and 3 runs in the inning, now only trailing 4–3.
The start of the fourth inning displayed some error-filled play by the Tritons, as two players for Hawaii reached base on 2 wild throws to first base by Jalen Smith, with 1 scoring on an Alvarez wild pitch. Following another wild pitch, the Tritons would bring in junior relief pitcher Izaak Martinez, who retired from the Rainbow Warriors side.
In the top of the fifth inning, Hawaii brought in another run, this time on a single RBI hit by Scotty Scott, before a Martinez strikeout got the Tritons out of the inning. The sixth inning displayed good defensive showing from both teams, with the only real play at the plate being made by Jalen Smith, who nailed a leadoff solo home run down left field to open up the bottom of the sixth inning for the Tritons.
Entering the seventh, Hawaii still led 6–4, and in quick response to the solo home run hit by Smith in the previous inning, Hawaii catcher Nainoa Cardinez hit a solo home run of his own down left field to lead off the top of the seventh inning, which brought the lead immediately back up by 3, 7–4, for the Rainbow Warriors. In the bottom of the seventh, Hawaii brought in sophomore pitcher Tai Atkins. Atkins’ time at the mound would not last long as he would allow the Tritons to generate some quick offense, but the Rainbow Warriors would bring in Buddie Pindel in relief and strand two runners on base without a score.
Heading into the ninth inning, Hawaii still held onto their lead, 7–4, and appeared to be in the driver’s seat in this ball game. In the top of the ninth, UCSD was able to perform well defensively, allowing no hits and no errors, and so they now made their way to the bottom of the ninth, needing a miraculous showing at the plate to have a chance at coming back in the game.
The Tritons would in fact give their fans a beam of hope, as 3 consecutive single-base hits by Emiliano Gonzalez, Ryan McNally, and Michael Fuhrman loaded the bases with one out, bringing the Triton fans to their feet. Hawaii made a last-minute pitching change out of desperation, bringing in junior pitcher Dalton Renne. Up to the plate for the Tritons was sophomore shortstop Noah Sudyka, but Renne managed to strike out Sudyka, and now the Rainbow Warriors needed just one more out to come away with this opening game series victory.
Next at the plate for the Tritons came freshman Matt Halbach as a pinch hitter. After a few tension-filled pitches, Halbach hit a deep line drive down right field, but to the dismay of all the Triton players and fans, the umpires called it a foul ball. The umpires would then go to the monitor and view the replay footage, but after a few nerve-inducing minutes of awaiting the decision, the umpires would confirm the call. A fielder’s choice would then end the rally by the Tritons and secure the win for the Rainbow Warriors.
With the loss, the Tritons would now have to bounce back in the next two days, as they continued to host their final home series of 2022 against Hawaii, following this overall strong performance by the Rainbow Warriors, who were able to respond to all of the Tritons’ comeback attempts throughout the ballgame.
Image courtesy of Mike McGinnis / UC San Diego Athletics