Breland Almadova’s walk-off single against Oregon on Saturday was the highlight of Hawaii’s opening weekend of baseball at Les Murakami Stadium.
But it was clear after UH’s first plate appearance of the season that the sophomore is ready to be the Rainbows’ table-setter at the top of the lineup.
» Who: No. 6 Texas (3-2) at Hawaii (2-2)
» When: 6:35 p.m. today, 3:05 p.m. tomorrow, 1:05 p.m. Sunday
» Where: Les Murakami Stadium
» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5, today and Sunday
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
It counted as just a walk in the box score, but Almadova’s nine-pitch sequence against Oregon’s Tyler Anderson last Friday showed the struggles of 2010 were behind him.
Almadova fouled off three pitches with two strikes before earning a free pass to first, proving he has the discipline and confidence to fulfill a critical role in UH’s lineup.
"It’s just a matter of forgetting about last year and starting new," the former ‘Iolani standout said. "(Last year) was very tough. People expect a lot more out of you being a Division I athlete, and getting away from UH baseball and playing summer ball gave me the confidence I needed."
Almadova was pegged to be UH’s leadoff hitter as a true freshman, but after nine games, he was hitting only .133 (4-for-30) and was pulled from the starting lineup.
He only had five at-bats the rest of the season and left for summer ball in California content to rediscover his game.
With the speed to steal bases and chase down anything hit to center, Almadova has been given a second chance to lock down his starting spot.
If there were any doubts about his confidence level entering his sophomore season, they were put to rest when he hit a walk-off, two-run single off Ducks closer Scott McGough with two outs in the ninth inning to give the ‘Bows an 11-10 win on Saturday.
"I was just trying to stay relaxed and see the ball and I got lucky the ball got over the second baseman to give our team the win," Almadova said.
Following a split against the Ducks, things don’t get any easier for Hawaii, which hosts No. 6 Texas in a three-game series beginning tonight.
Hits will continue to be at a premium as the Longhorns send Taylor Jungmann, a first-team preseason All-American, to the mound tonight.
"Texas is a program that measures their success on one thing and that’s winning a national championship," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "(Taylor) is looked at being a lock top-five pick and we’ll definitely have a challenge in front of us."
Jungmann had a 2.03 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 120 innings last year, but wasn’t even Texas’ best pitcher.
Right-hander Cole Green, who will start tomorrow, is the reigning Big 12 pitcher of the year and a first team All-American after going 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA and four complete games.
He was drafted in the fourth round of last year’s draft, but returned for his senior year.
The Rainbows will go with Matt Sisto (0-0, 2.84 ERA) tonight and hope for a better outing from junior Connor Little (0-0, 6.75) tomorrow.
Neither team has announced its Sunday starter.
"Our pitching and defense is going to have to be at its best because we’re not going to score a lot of runs off of those guys," Trapasso said. "I want to see (Connor) pitch like he has all fall and spring for us, which is to command the cup and stay in the lower part of the strike zone."
UH got a boost from newcomers Zack Swasey and David Peterson, who combined to go 9-for-20 against the Ducks.
Swasey, a junior college transfer from Utah, went 5-for-11 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. His emergence has created a logjam in the outfield with senior Sean Montplaisir, whose double off the wall on Saturday set up Almadova’s game-winning hit, also contending for the starting spot in left.
"We’re not going to have a locked, set lineup that we’re going to play 50 games with because we’ve got guys that we can keep putting out there," Trapasso said. "Montplaisir needs to get at-bats because he was one of our more consistent hitters all fall and spring and Zack needs to keep swinging like he is.
"It’s a good problem to have because the outfield has a lot of guys swinging well and we’ll just wait and see how it shakes out."