Can it be a surprise if it’s happened so many times before?
Not if you ask Kolten Wong.
In a season full of dramatic late-game heroics, the Hawaii baseball team saved perhaps its best comeback for last.
Sean Montplaisir hit a slow roller to second that Jacob Valdez threw wide of first, allowing Jeff Van Doornum to score from first for the winning run as Hawaii rallied from a three-run, ninth-inning deficit to pull off a stunning 9-8 victory over San Jose State in the final game of the season at Les Murakami Stadium.
The Rainbows (30-21, 15-5 Western Athletic Conference), now 13-5 in one-run games, won for the fifth time when trailing after seven innings.
"This is how our team has been since Day 1 and honestly, I’m not even surprised," Wong said. "It’s not really a shock anymore because we’ve done this so many times."
With an 8-6 lead and the bases loaded, the Spartans (32-21, 10-10) brought in pitching ace Roberto Padilla, the team’s No. 1 starter, to finish the game. With a 3-2 count to Montplaisir, all three runners took off on Padilla’s initial movement, allowing Van Doornum to make it all the way around from first when Valdez’s throw bounced off Montplaisir’s leg toward the UH dugout.
"I can’t imagine any better way to end," said Montplaisir, one of five seniors honored after the game. "That’s what I love about this team. Everyone on our team has been battling every day, and the best I can do is go out and do everything I possibly can to help us come away with the win."
A standing-room-only crowd of 3,597 erupted in delight as the victory clinched a bye in the conference tournament. Hawaii is two up in the loss column on Fresno State with a four-game series at New Mexico State this week left to play.
"The ramifications of just that last inning are huge because of the bye," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "You don’t want to go into Las Cruces (N.M.) not knowing what the situation is and thinking you have to win three or four or something like that."
Depending on the outcome of the Bulldogs’ make-up game against Nevada this week, UH may only need one win against the Aggies to clinch the No. 1 seed.
"That’s big because it might allow us to save our pitching a little bit, especially on the road at a place like New Mexico (State)," said Van Doornum, who had eight hits in the series. "(This) game doesn’t compare to any other game I think I’ve played here at UH.
"Alex Capaul getting the win as a senior, me getting the game-winning run, Sean making the clutch at-bat, it’s something I don’t think us as seniors will ever forget."
Capaul (2-2) threw four pitches to earn his first victory since March 21 and fellow senior Blair Walters bounced back from a tough outing on Friday to throw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring five of the six batters he faced.
Van Doornum finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored and Collin Bennett was 4-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored. Both Van Doornum and Bennett singled with two outs in the ninth to give Montplaisir the chance to win it.
Bennett, benched for the first six WAC games, is hitting .391 (18-for-46) in league play.
"It seems we like these pressure situations and we pull through," Bennett said. "I’m starting to feel like my old self and feeling way more confident at the plate."
Zack Swasey and Breland Almadova scored twice as Hawaii’s comeback kept Lenny Linsky from suffering his second loss this season.
Linsky replaced Walters to begin the eighth in a 5-5 game and gave up five hits and three runs in 1 2/3 innings in what could be his last home game.
Linsky and Wong, both juniors, are expected to be high draft picks in next month’s draft and will likely sign with pro teams.
"It’s been a bit hectic with taking some finals I missed and the family coming over, but to play a game like this, if it is my last home game, was pretty awesome," said Wong, who played in front of approximately 10 family members who made the trip from the Big Island.