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Hawaii baseball finishes strong, ‘deserves’ regional invite, coach Hill says

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                                In this multiple exposure made in the camera, Hawaii pitcher Connor Harrison works against the Cal State Fullerton Titans during the third inning.
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In this multiple exposure made in the camera, Hawaii pitcher Connor Harrison works against the Cal State Fullerton Titans during the third inning.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Hawaii seniors, in foreground, and the rest of the Rainbows took a curtain call after beating Cal State Fullerton to complete their regular season Saturday at Les Murakami Stadium.
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The Hawaii seniors, in foreground, and the rest of the Rainbows took a curtain call after beating Cal State Fullerton to complete their regular season Saturday at Les Murakami Stadium.

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                                Hawaii pitcher Randy Abshier flashes shakas during senior night festivities.
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Hawaii pitcher Randy Abshier flashes shakas during senior night festivities.

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                                Hawaii designated hitter Austin Machado hits an RBI single during the fifth inning.
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Hawaii designated hitter Austin Machado hits an RBI single during the fifth inning.

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                                Hawaii outfielder Jared Quandt hits an RBI double during the second inning.
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Hawaii outfielder Jared Quandt hits an RBI double during the second inning.

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                                Hawaii first baseman Kyson Donahue shakes hands with teammates during senior night festivities.
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Hawaii first baseman Kyson Donahue shakes hands with teammates during senior night festivities.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                In this multiple exposure made in the camera, Hawaii pitcher Connor Harrison works against the Cal State Fullerton Titans during the third inning.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Hawaii seniors, in foreground, and the rest of the Rainbows took a curtain call after beating Cal State Fullerton to complete their regular season Saturday at Les Murakami Stadium.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Hawaii pitcher Randy Abshier flashes shakas during senior night festivities.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Hawaii designated hitter Austin Machado hits an RBI single during the fifth inning.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Hawaii outfielder Jared Quandt hits an RBI double during the second inning.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Hawaii first baseman Kyson Donahue shakes hands with teammates during senior night festivities.

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Hawaii closes season with win over Cal State Fullerton

Now they wait.

The University of Hawaii baseball team completed its winningest season in 18 years with a come-from-behind 5-2 victory over Cal State-Fullerton on Saturday.

UH, one of the hottest teams in the country, finished with a series sweep of the Titans and victories in 18 of its last 20 games. Hawaii won its last 11 home games. A season-high turnstile crowd of 3,869 attended Saturday’s senior sendoff at Les Murakami Stadium.

But the Rainbow Warriors — despite ending the season 37-16 overall — finished third in the Big West with a 20-10 record. It is considered unlikely they will advance to the NCAA Regionals.

Coach Rich Hill tried to remain optimistic that there will be good news for the ’Bows on Monday when the NCAA announces its field of 64 teams at 6 a.m. on ESPN2.

“I really don’t know, but we’ve got so many good bullet points,” said Hill in his third season as UH’s head coach. “We’re third in the country in ERA and we finished very strong.

“The committee likes teams that schedule strong, and we did that.”

After the first two batters Saturday, it seemed that might all be moot.

Fullerton started with home runs by Nico Regino and Jack Schardt off Hawaii starter Connor Harrison.

UH fired back with a run in the first and two in the second to take a 3-2 lead, and the Titans did not score again. They fell to 16-38 and 7-23 in the Big West. Austin Machado, Jared Quandt and Elijah Ickes provided key doubles.

Harrison settled down, and the Rainbow Warriors got superb relief from Zacary Tenn and Itsuki Takemoto.

“When the first (Titans) home run went out, I thought, ‘This is gonna be a great (comeback) story,” Hill said. “After the second one, I thought, ‘This is gonna be a really great story.”

Hill said he was proud of how Harrison settled down after the home runs, and got out of further trouble in the inning with runners on first and third.

“I left a couple of fastballs out over the middle of the plate and they made me pay for it,” Harrison said of the home runs. “Then got three scoreless. (Tenn) did a great job, and then Itsuki was lights out. And our offense. I knew they’d do what was needed.”

Meanwhile, Tenn pitched 3 1/3 innings of shut-out ball, allowing three hits and striking out four with no walks to earn the win.

“I had six righty-righty matchups in a row, so the slider was working,” Tenn said. “Then they were set up for fastballs.”

Takemoto pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, allowing no baserunners and striking out four of the eight batters he faced to earn a save.

“Zacary with a great job again,” Hill said. “And then Itsuki with the cut fastball.”

Combined, the Rainbows struck out nine with no walks or hit batsmen.

It was also key that the ’Bows came back with at least one run in the bottom of the first, Hill said.

UH’s first-inning run came in a rally keyed by Machado’s opposite-field double down the left-field line.

Matthew Miura led off the second with a single to center and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Quandt doubled off the right field wall, scoring Miura and tying the game at 2-all.

Schardt misplayed Ickes’ fly to left into a run-scoring double, and Hawaii led 3-2.

It stayed that way until the fifth, when Jake Tsukada doubled home Jordan Donahue, who had walked. Donahue then scored on Machado’s single to right, making it 5-2.

“No panic at all,” Tsukada said of UH’s approach after the Fullerton homers in the first. “We didn’t flinch, that’s been our motto.”

Said Ickes: “Coach Rich said don’t flinch, we’ll punch back, get some runs and get Connor his confidence back.”

After the game, UH seniors Randy Abshier, Tai Atkins, Naighel Ali’i Calderon, Nainoa Cardinez, Kyson Donahue, DallasJ Duarte, Tyler Dyball, Harrison, Blake Hiraki, Trevor Ichimura, Stone Miyao, Sean Rimmer, Tsukada and Aaron Ujimori were honored.

“Right now it’s out of our control,” said Tsukada of a possible regional bid. “We put ourselves in the best position we could. There’s no reason to stress over it.”

Hill said UH athletic director Craig Angelos is lobbying for the ’Bows to make a regional.

“This team absolutely deserves it,” Hill said.

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