'Bows' Big Island boys excited for trip to play before home fans

Feb. 28—Hilo is where the local folks call the sweet treat "ice shave, " where the first loco moco was served, and where kids learn baseball the Wong way.

Hilo is where the local folks call the sweet treat "ice shave, " where the first loco moco was served, and where kids learn baseball the Wong way.

It also is where a new college baseball tradition will start when Hawaii and Hawaii Hilo meet today at Wong Stadium. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.

"I'm really grateful Coach (Rich ) Hill allowed us to go home, " said UH catcher DallasJ Duarte, who grew up in Hilo and attended Kamehameha-Hawaii. "I've been here (at UH ) six years, but it feels like 10. I have yet to play (a college game ) at Wong Stadium. ... It's going to hit the heart, for sure. I can't wait. It's a blessing."

Most Division I baseball teams fill out their schedules with mid-week, nonconference games. As the state's only Division I program, the Rainbow Warriors could only play mid-week games on the road. But Hill successfully petitioned the Big West, of which UH is a member, to waive a rule limiting the'Bows to playing only one game against a non-Division I team. The'Bows will play mid-week games against Hilo, Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific this season.

After the waiver was approved, Hill booked a game in Hilo. "This is something I wanted to do when I first got the job, " said Hill, who was hired as UH head coach in June 2021. "I wanted to bring our brand to the neighbor islands. For us to have a chance to go to the Big Island and play in Wong Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd ... we're excited. It's a win-win for everybody."

"I'm excited to go home and play in front of my family, " said second baseman Stone Miyao, a Waiakea High graduate.

Like many Hawaii island youngsters, Miyao attended Kaha Wong's baseball clinics. The elder Wong is the father of pro baseball players Kolten Wong, who played at UH, and Kean Wong. "He taught me how to play baseball, how to hit when I was 4 years old, " Miyao said of Kaha Wong. "I was blessed to train with Coach Kaha."

Len Miyao convinced his naturally right-handed son to try a left-swinging stance, just like Kolten Wong's. "I wanted to be like him, " Stone Miyao said.

The circle will be completed with Miyao's return to Hilo.

Left-handed pitcher Tai Atkins, infielder /outfielder Xaige Lancaster and infielder Bronson Rivera also are'Bows who grew up on Hawaii island.

"They're fired up, " Hill said. "Those guys love where they came from. They love their families. They are very excited about it."

As for nervousness, Hill said, "all the guys from the Big Island have ice in their veins. Those guys are killers. To be over there in that environment, in familiar surroundings, it's really going to have that good feeling in their gut."

Hill and assistant coach Lindsay Meggs began their coaching careers at Division II schools.

"I come from Cal Lutheran, and we beat Division I schools all the time, " Hill said. "Lindsay Meggs comes from Chico State, where he beat the Division I schools all the time. I know it can happen. If Hilo, Chaminade or HPU think we're going to overlook them or play some of our younger guys, they're completely wrong. They're going against the wrong coach. I know those guys can play. I respect the coaches and the players in those programs."

Hill said Itsuki Takemoto, who has two saves and has not allowed a run in four innings, will start for the'Bows today. "We're playing our starters, " Hill said. "It's a playoff game."