The finish was nothing like the start
OH, it was exciting at the end, too. With Santa Clara creeping up, and Hawaii's Jorge Franco launching a solo shot to left ("It was Kona winds day," coach Mike Trapasso joked), a bomb that would prove to be the winning run. And then Nate Young would end it with a spectacular leaping grab, getting the final out by catching a liner that should, by all rights and logic, have gone right over his head.
Oh, yeah, this game was great at the end, what a day.
Oh, yes, this Rainbows team looks like it just might end up being pretty good, again.
But after this game I'm thinking we need to look past the spectacular finish, examine something even bigger than the day's greatest hits. Let's go back to the beginning -- you know, before the big inning.
The Broncos were hitting the crap out of the ball and Hawaii was not. (UH wouldn't get its first hit until the fourth inning.) Santa Clara freshman Nate Garcia was owning the 'Bows.
Mark Rodrigues was a little rusty -- how could he not be? Sure, it's his sixth season; the man's old and wise. But for months, waiting for NCAA official clearance, he wasn't able to practice with the team.
He started sharp, a spectacular first inning. Then Santa Clara started hitting.
"They're almost impossible to strike out," Trapasso would say of the Broncos. "They're always going to put the ball in play."
They did, yesterday. Time and again.
But then ...
UH started making plays. Defense. Franco to Eli Christensen to catcher Landon Hernandez and the Rainbows had turned extra bases down the line into an inning-ending play at the plate. Right fielder Evan Zimny held a man on third; the guy never scored. Kris Sanchez made a smooth leaping, tagging play at first base.
"The middle infielders need to take him to dinner," Trapasso would say.
("We practice that," Sanchez would say.)
Rodrigues loaded the bases, then saved himself.
One team was hitting everything, the other not. It should have been a runaway. It could have been over, that early. The 'Bows might have been buried, by the time you dared open your eyes.
But then the dust cleared, and it was 2-0, that's all.
"There were a couple of times," Sanchez would say, "when it could have been a hit here or a hit there or a play here or a play there and they could have broke the whole thing open."
"That was a big point in the game there," Zimny would say.
It was huge. But Hawaii's defense held back the tidal wave. When the Rainbows could have been buried, Hawaii was instead both lucky and good.
"That's probably all we could ask out of Mark" going 5 1/3 innings, seven hits, even leaving with a lead -- "considering he's been working out on his own," Trapasso said.
Yes, Rodrigues was all you could ask for in his comeback. They hit him, but he did what he had to, and he left with the lead. Welcome back, Kotter. He deserved it, the old guy had gotten the win.
"That's what we tell our pitchers," said Sanchez, who had two other defensive highlights at first base. "Get them to swing over the plate and we'll make the plays."
The outfield. The outfield helped keep several zeroes on the board. "We have speed in the outfield," Trapasso said. Brandon Haislet made some nice running catches in center. Franco doesn't look fast, but, apparently, "Jorgie can really run," Trapasso said.
It could have been 4-0, 6-0, 8-0, who knows. Instead, Hawaii weathered the storm down just 2-0, ready for a new beginning. The Big Inning.
Then Hawaii was hitting, an outburst, a flood. Sanchez broke up the no-hitter, then Zimny a two-on, two-out, two-run two-bagger, 2-2. Then Santa Clara -- gasp! -- a defensive gaffe. Ryan Asato broke the tie. It just kept going.
This could have happened to Hawaii, in at least two innings, in the beginning. But it didn't. The Broncos kept hitting, but didn't get much. The Rainbows defense was too good.
"Most of the time when you get beat," Trapasso said, "you get beat by add-on runs." You know, "don't let the 2 turn into a 5." Add-on runs. That's the key.
That's what happened to Santa Clara in Hawaii's big inning. But in the beginning, with this game in the balance, it was UH's defense that somehow held off a storm.