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Battling ‘Bows rally to win in extra innings

HONOLULU — On a WWE-themed day, the Hawai‘i baseball team was cookin’.

Naighel Ali‘i Calderon, a former walk-on, smacked a walk-off double in the 11th inning to boost the Rainbow Warriors to a 6-5 victory over Cal Poly at Les Murakami Stadium on Sunday.

A crowd of 2,148 watched the Rainbow Warriors win two in this three-game series between Big West teams. The ’Bows improved to 22-15 overall and 6-9 in the Big West. The Mustangs fell to 22-16 and 12-6.

The ’Bows rallied to tie it at 4 in the ninth when Matthew Miura raced home from second on a wild pitch, and then evened it at 5 on DallasJ Duarte’s sacrifice fly in the 10th.

In the UH 11th, Ben Zeigler-Namoa singled to left but later was thrown out at second on Elijah Ickes’ fielder’s choice groundout. Ickes went to second when pinch hitter Kamana Nahaku was hit by a Caden Pearlman pitch.

Calderon, who was added to the lineup 20 minutes ahead of the first pitch, then hit a towering drive that went over right fielder Liam McDonald’s head and struck the fence. Ickes, who had paused between second and third to make sure the ball was not caught, then raced home with the winning run.

“I tried to get home and score, and that’s what I did,” Ickes said.

Calderon said: “I saw that happening before it happened. We do a lot of mental preparation before the game. … I saw (the ball), and I hit it. I don’t even remember what kind of pitch it was.”

Calderon, who is the fastest ’Bow, was used mostly as a pinch runner ahead of this series. Frustrated with his role, Calderon approached assistant coach Lindsay Meggs.

“Man, I just couldn’t just sit on the bench anymore,” Calderon recalled. “I had to go in and talk to Coach Meggs about ‘how do I earn my spot?’ He told me I just had to get better at everything.”

With help from Meggs and assistant coach Dave Nakama, Calderon worked on his swing and approach. “Baseball is just a mental thing,” Calderon said. “It’s easier when you have guys behind you, when you have great teammates.”

On Friday, Calderon made a leaping catch in the ninth, then scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning. On Sunday, UH circulated a pre-game lineup that did not include Calderon.

“That’s kind of a crazy story,” head coach Rich Hill said. “I kind of had a hunch before the game. I walked into Coach Meggs’ office, and I said, ‘how about Naighel for Dallas (Duarte)? Dallas would do good for a day off and watch the game. And Naighel gives us a little bit more on defense and speed. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth, and Coach Meggs was like, ‘heck, yeah’ pumping his fists. That one worked out. Twenty minutes before the game.”

“I’m still a work in progress,” said Calderon, a senior from Lanai. “Ever since my freshman year, I’ve never been the greatest athlete. I was a walk on. Coach put me on scholarship beginning of the fall. It’s not me. It’s my teammates. They pushed me to be accountable. We have that kind of leadership on this team.”

The ’Bows’ preparation was evident in the ninth with Miura on second and the Mustangs ahead 4-3. Tanner Sagousepe’s pitched skipped off catcher Ryan Stafford’s pads and rolled toward the third-base side.

“I know we have a big foul ground here,” Miura said. “Once I saw the ball skip, I put my head down and ran as hard as I could. We do a lot in the fall. Coach Rich really stresses being aggressive. That’s him. That’s coaching. It’s being comfortable taking risks.”

Hill said: “That’s an actual play we have. We call it the ‘Rainbow Surprise.’ They start yelling, ‘rainbow, rainbow, rainbow,’ and Matt didn’t hesitate. He didn’t stop.”

Of the ’Bows’ grittiness, Miura said: “We just go up there and we go to war every time. Each at bat is a tough at bat. We never give up.”
Source: The Garden Island

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