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Dave Reardon: 'Bows have climbed midseason mountains before

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In coach Rich Hill's first two years as the University of Hawaii baseball coach, the Rainbows heated up around the middle of both seasons.

The results were winning records in the Big West — 19-11 in 2022 and 18-12 last year, as part of 28-24 and 29-20 overall marks.

It hasn't been enough yet to get longtime Rainbows fans what they've craved for decades, a return to when NCAA Regional appearances were routine.

Still, it is certainly a nice change from UH's first eight Big West seasons, in which the Rainbows went 86-125. A batting average of .408 is pretty nice, but that's not a number you want for a winning percentage. And the 'Bows were consistent underachievers ... they had a not very grand total of zero winning seasons in the conference before Hill's arrival.

A quick look at this year's standings midway through the Big West schedule might be alarming, though: UH is 6-9, in sixth place in the 11-team conference. The 'Bows, who are 22-15 overall, were swept in two of their first five conference series by UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara — two of the three teams tied for first at 11-4.

It's safe to say the NCAA regional drought that goes back to 2010, when Kolten Wong led the 'Bows into one, isn't ending this year. There are too many teams ahead of them, and by too many games to catch them all. And the Big West doesn't start playing conference tournaments until next year.

But judging by the way the Rainbows played last week against Cal Poly — one of those five teams ahead of them — another winning season in the conference and maybe 30 or more victories overall is plausible.

The 'Bows took two of three from the Mustangs, and both wins were walk-offs, games that UH refused to lose.

Naighel Ali'i Calderon figured in both game-winning rallies. He singled and scored on Austin Machado's ninth-inning flyball for a 4-3 win on Friday, and on Sunday his double plated Elijah Ickes in the bottom of the 11th, giving UH a 6-5 win in the series finale.

Hawaii trailed 4-1 headed into the bottom of the eighth Sunday, but scratched out enough runs to stay in it in each inning before winning it in the 11th.

It was the kind of game that had so many crucial contributions it was easy to forget some. But the players remember, and they perform better when they have confidence their teammates will come through in the clutch, too.

"Very emotional," Hill said. "Just shows the resilience of this team. And you dig deeper, especially of some young guys."

He mentioned several veterans, like Jordan Donahue, who got things going with a double in the eighth; Connor Harrison, who kept the Mustangs quiet with just one hit in 41/3 innings of relief; and Calderon.

"Naighel, twice. (He) hasn't had an opportunity to play a lot this year. He gets in there and delivers a big hit, two (wins) in a row, so a lot of heroes all the way around."

The coach also spoke of three freshman pitchers: Brayden Marx, Sebastian Gonzalez and Myles Standish.

Even after allowing three runs in four innings in Friday's win, Gonzalez's ERA is 3.27 with a WHIP of 0.98. He, like Marx and Standish, averages more than a strikeout per inning.

Marx got the win Sunday, pitching the 10th and 11th. He also threw Saturday, and was unscored upon in 2 2/3 innings for the series. He has not allowed a run in four Big West appearances. His overall ERA is 2.25.

If Standish's name sounds familiar, you remained awake during your early American literature or history class. Don't sleep on this one, either. He has struck out seven, walked one and yielded no hits in five appearances. Standish pitched to just one batter Sunday, but it was a key out, as he retired the dangerous Joe Yorke on a pop foul with two on and two out in the ninth.

The last four teams UH will play are 26-40 in the Big West.

But before them, Hawaii visits another opponent this week above them in the standings, UC San Diego (13-5).

The Tritons will be a good test of how the Rainbows' momentum and synergy fit in their luggage.