May 31, 2022 // By: Josh Pacheco
Generally, I wouldn’t celebrate a team’s 28-24 college baseball season.
For starters, the bar for success should be higher, as Rich Hill’s ultimate goal is to sell out Les Murakami Stadium and host an NCAA regional. Building on the latter, there are only three teams who have made the NCAA College Baseball regionals this season with less than 28 wins: New Mexico State (24-32, WAC Tournament winner), Binghamton (22-38. America East Tournament champion), and Coppin State (24-28, MEAC Championship).
Considering how stagnant the program had been in the previous years, however, Hawaii’s 2022 campaign should be viewed as a step in the right direction.
Head Coach Rich Hill and his team reached several benchmarks that signaled a successful path forward for the team. The obvious ones are the winning Big West Conference record (19-11), a first for the program since joining the conference, as well as a third place finish, the highest BWC mark achieved by a Rainbow Warrior baseball team.
There are several others that I felt were important. Hawaii’s nine wins in the month of May were the most since its NCAA Regional season in 2010 (12), and the 9-5 record in the final month of the season was its first above-.500 record in May since 2014 (7-6). Additionally, the ‘Bows were only swept once all season, courtesy of then-fifth ranked Vanderbilt.
Most of all, Hawaii baseball is FUN again.
On any given day, you didn’t know who would come through with a breakout performance to guide the team to victory. It could be pitching, anchored by a surprising ace in Blaze Koali’I Pontes, who emerged in the final seven weeks to become Hawaii’s most dominant pitcher. What about at the plate? Kyson Donahue overcame an offseason hamate bone injury that cost him some time at the beginning of the season, as well as some defensive issues when he did get in the game, to become the team’s leading hitter by the end of the year. And Stone Miyao, wearing short-pants and high socks, became the team’s most consistent hitter when conference play rolled around.
Hawaii was relevant again in the baseball community. Past alumni, previously feeling left out, were welcomed back in to the program with open arms. The alumni game, while not competitive, was an eye-opening gathering point, especially late into the evening in the parking lot, and the mural on the outfield wall celebrating Hawaii’s past greats, replacing what previously was names and numbers slapped on to an indoor batting cage in left field.
Outreach has also been a priority. Hill made it a point to go out to as many of the youth league games as he could, helping to inspire and motivate what might turn out to be the next local baseball standout. And camps and clinics are back at Les Murakami Stadium, complete with a promotional blitz to make sure to get as many talented players out there as possible.
The Twitter posts from departing graduates Cole Cabrera and Andy Archer on the state of the program says it all. Said Cabrera, a Punahou graduate who transferred for his final season from Cal Poly, on Saturday, “To all the local boyz and guys on the mainland, come play for Rich Hill and the 808. Simply put it’ll be special.”
And Archer, who played at UH for one season after his early years at Georgia Tech, wrote a reply to Pleasant Grove High School’s Brayden Marx, who announced his commitment to UH on Sunday. Archer simply said, “One of the best decisions you will ever make.”
Hawaii’s opening weekend against Wright State in 2023 can’t come soon enough.