Facing sub-60 degree weather, a highly-ranked opponent and a fanbase taking 10,686 tickets at Alex Box Stadium, none of that fazed the University of Hawai’i baseball team (8-4) in Friday’s opener at No. 16 LSU (9-6). The Rainbow Warriors worked timely hitting behind steady pitching to knock off their first ranked foe of the season in the 4-2 win.
Entering the game with just three home runs through 11 games in the pitcher-friendly confines of Les Murakami Stadium, the Rainbow Warriors made the most of the less-dense Louisiana air with three long balls proving to be the difference in the victory over the Southeastern Conference-based Tigers. However, each big swing came for the Rainbow Warriors as a counterpunch.
Getting the offenses stirring early, both teams led off with a hit, but Zach Watson’s double paid off for the Tigers first, as he came around to score the game’s initial run on a Hawai’i fielding error and Antoine Duplantis RBI.
The Rainbow Warriors couldn’t have responded any faster, as third baseman Ethan Lopez launched the first Zack Hess pitch he saw beyond the left field wall to tie the game at 1-1 with his first home run of the year to open up the second inning.
Hawai’i continued to show more long-ball ability in the third, as shortstop Maaki Yamazaki cashed in Hess’ two-out payoff pitch, belting it beyond the right field wall for his first career home run, and the 2-1 UH advantage. Yamazaki was also dangerous for the Rainbow Warriors on defense, collecting three big assists. Keeping the lead alive for the Rainbow Warriors in the fourth, Yamazaki started a bases-loaded double play to get the Rainbow Warriors out of danger and hold the one-run line.
Although the UH lead would stand for three innings, a leadoff walk came back to bite starter Jackson Rees, as a two-out Chris Reid RBI single knotted the score at 2-2 in the sixth.
Again, the Rainbow Warriors quickly responded in the seventh, as designated hitter Logan Pouelsen lifted the next Hess pitch into the right field seats for his first home run of the year, moving the UH lead back to a single run, where the Rainbow Warrior defense would keep things stable.
Hawai’i recorded only its second ninth-inning run of the early season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Chasing the Tigers deep into their bullpen on just the first night out, Lopez and Chayce Ka’aua set the table with consecutive one-out singles, and catcher Kekai Rios pushed the insurance run across the plate with an RBI lined into left field.
After dealing out six solid innings with seven hits and two runs for the win, Rees (2-0) handed off to left-hander Kyle Hatton to hold the line. Taking over in the eighth, sophomore closer Dylan Thomas earned his fifth save in six opportunities, locking up two strikeouts versus just one hit.
At the plate, Yamazaki went 3-for-4, while Lopez hit 2-for-4 and scored twice.
Taking the 1-0 lead in the series, the Rainbow Warriors return to action against the Tigers on Saturday at Alex Box Stadium. First pitch for game two is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and will be streamed live on the SEC Network+ platform.