Escape artists

LIHU‘E — In the first inning, the Kaua‘i Red Raiders were able to capitalize with the bases loaded. In the seventh, it was the Waimea Menehune’s inability to do that which cost them the game.

Kaua‘i senior Jensen Koga came in relief of starter Erin Doi in the seventh, shutting down the heart of the Menehune order in preserving a 4-3 win for the Red Raiders Wednesday afternoon at Vidinha Stadium.

The Red Raiders’ one-run lead entering the final inning looked to be in jeopardy when the first two Menehune batters reached base. Brock Tacata reached on a Koga error at shortstop and was advanced to third when Jordan Kamakea lined a single to rightfield.

With no outs and the tying run at third base, Kaua‘i head coach Hank Ibia relieved Doi — who pitched six-plus innings, giving up one earned-run and six hits — and opted for his shortstop Koga.

Ibia said he figured at least one-run would score and the Raiders would still be OK with Kaua‘i coming to the plate at the bottom of the innings. Apparently, Koga had a different plan.

“His thoughts were, ‘We’re going to stop them right here,’” Ibia said.

The first batter the hard-throwing right-hander faced was Waimea’s Mikey Rita. The Waimea second baseman tried to score Tacata on a squeeze bunt, but the ball was bunted right back to Koga, who flipped the ball home to catch Tacata at the plate for the first out.

The Red Raiders loaded the bases on the next play, when a should-be out was bobbled at first base, leaving Mikeo Rita safe on first on the error.

That brought Brock Ephan to the plate with the bases loaded. In his previous at-bat, the Waimea slugger had skied out to the warning track and left-field. But Koga struck out Ephan on a 2-2 slider on the outside corner for the second out of the game.

Koga forced Alika Emayo to ground out on to shortstop in the next at-bat for the save.

Ibia said Koga is one of the best pitchers in the league when he’s on his game, and he proved it in the seventh inning. “Maybe I brought him in too late,” he said.

The Red Raiders jumped on the board in the first inning due to the wildness of Waimea starter Mikeo Rita.

Rita, who is 2-0 on the season, couldn’t find the strike zone from the start. The Waimea hurler hit the first batter, and loaded the bases by walking the next two.  The Raiders received their two runs when Rita hit the next two batters.

“Mikeo, it just wasn’t his day,” Waimea head coach Michael Rita said.

Coach Rita pulled Mikeo after the second run scored and put in B.J. Frietas in relief. While Rita struggled to find the strikezone, Frietas pounded it.

Frietas got Cody Juarez to ground into a double play — with an out coming at home — for the first two outs and followed by getting Cal Koga to ground out to second to escape the inning. Frietas went the distance for the Menehune in relief, limiting the Red Raiders to five hits while striking out five.

“B.J. did a nice job in coming in,” coach Rita said. “When you come in you have to do a pick-up job, and he did.” The Menehune, who picked up a run in the top of the first inning when Mikeo Rita scored Jordan Kamakea on a fielders choice, took advantage of a Red Raider error in the fourth inning to get back in the game.

Ephan and Alika Emayo led off the inning with back-to-back singles. After an Aceytn Emyao fly-out, Ephan scored when Koga made an error on a Frietas groundball to short. Alika Emayo came around to score on a Tacata sacrifice fly to even the score at 3-3.

The Red Raiders countered back in the sixth inning when Kainoa Iwasaki led off the inning with a triple to the right-center gap. Following a Kellen Aquino walk, Iwasaki scored on a Dreyke Smith-Butac sacrifice bunt to give the Red Raiders the 4-3 lead.

Ibia said the Red Raiders, despite having seven fielding errors, were able to overcome their fielding blunders with timely hits.

“There were a lot of errors and we shouldn’t be making those,” Ibia said. “But if we hit at the right time we should be OK.”

Iwasaki helped ignite the Red Raiders four-run seventh inning come-from-behind win last Saturday against the Kapa‘a Warriors, and now, following his Wednesday triple, Ibia admitted Iwasaki may be developing a big-game gene.

“So far, yeah, he’s been clutch,” Ibia said. “But we don’t want him hearing that.”

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