MESA, Ariz. » The stakes were finally just right for Hawaii junior Matt Sisto.
UH’s best big-game pitcher of the past two seasons was at it again, allowing no earned runs in seven innings to help Hawaii defeat San Jose State 2-1 Thursday night in its opening Western Athletic Conference tournament game at Hohokam Stadium.
The top-seeded Rainbows (33-23) avoided a scenario in which they would need to win as many as five games in the next three days to repeat as WAC tournament champs.
Instead, Hawaii will play second-seeded Fresno State (38-14) today at 4 p.m., with the winner in the driver’s seat to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.
"It was important for us to come out and win that and put ourselves in a situation (tonight) to win and force someone to beat us twice," said Sisto, who pitched the Rainbows to postseason victories over Fresno State and San Diego a year ago.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander, who retired 12 in a row at one point, had allowed 22 runs in his previous 16 1⁄3 innings before last night’s dominant outing.
"So he’s been struggling his last three or four starts, but you have to look at his whole body of work," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "He elevates his game when the game is of bigger importance and he was outstanding today. The way he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes, I could have probably left him in there and he could have gone (a complete game)."
San Jose State’s Esteban Guzman was on top of his game as well, matching Sisto inning-for-inning.
>> Game 6: Nevada vs. San Jose State, 8 a.m.
The game was scoreless until Hawaii finally broke through in the eighth when Pi‘ikea Kitamura drilled an 0-2 pitch into the gap in left-center for a double that scored UH’s only two runs of the game.
"I wanted to stay out of the double play knowing Kolten (Wong) was coming up," said Kitamura, who had two of Hawaii’s seven hits. "He tried to come in with a fastball and left it up and I put a good swing on it."
The Rainbows made the lead stand as Sisto, who gave up five hits and one walk with three strikeouts, was pulled after a leadoff single by Michael DiRocco to start the eighth.
Danny Stienstra, who finished with three of San Jose’s six hits, drove in DiRocco with a two-out infield single between short and third, but Blair Walters forced Zack Jones to fly out to right to end the inning.
Lenny Linsky walked two batters in the ninth before striking out DiRocco to end the game and earn his 13th save, tying the single-season school record held by Craig Tucker in 1991.
"For some reason I was in a funk and couldn’t figure out my mechanics," said Linsky, whose 26 career saves are the second most by a Rainbow. "Matt pitched his (butt) off and Blair and I knew we had to get him the win."
The Spartans (34-25), who play Nevada in an elimination game at 11 a.m., have been snakebitten by the Rainbows all year.
SJSU is 1-4 against Hawaii this season, including a 9-8 loss 12 days ago in which it gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Guzman (5-4) did everything he could to keep the Spartans in the winners bracket, giving up only the two runs in a complete-game effort, striking out five and walking two.
"Both pitchers were brilliant," San Jose State coach Sam Piraro said.
The Rainbows, who split at Fresno State earlier in the year, will start left-hander Jarrett Arakawa (5-3, 3.97) against the Bulldogs, who will likely counter with Josh Poytress.
The winner will have to lose Saturday and Sunday to not win the tournament championship. Fresno won the previous four before Hawaii beat the Bulldogs twice last year to advance to a regional.
"They’re fighting to host a regional, I think, but our guys will go out there and compete," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "(Today) was one of those games were whoever struck first was probably going to win.
"It was a great, great college baseball game."
|HAWAII 2, SAN JOSE STATE 1
E–Borg; Christian. DP–SJSU 2. LOB–Hawaii 6; SJSU 8. 2B–Kitamura; Wong. SH–Moore.
Sisto pitched to 1 batter in the 8th.