As far as independent baseball goes, there are two sure things in life — local product Ronnie Loeffler’s invincibility at home and Maikel Jova’s magical bat, which has no shortage of base hits.
Loeffler picked up his league-leading sixth win, and the Hawaii Stars swung hot sticks to thump the first-place San Rafael Pacifics 7-3 in a North American Baseball League game on Tuesday night at Wong Stadium, snapping a five-game losing streak.
The Stars (19-18) and Pacifics (24-13) play the second game of a six-game set at 5:35 p.m. today at Wong. Dallas Mahan (0-5, 3.91 ERA) is scheduled to start for Hawaii. It is First Hawaiian Bank night with employees and guests of the bank receiving free admission.
Loeffler, 26, a former UH-Hilo pitcher, has made four starts at home. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has earned three wins with one no-decision, getting his latest victory in impressive fashion. Loeffler (6-1, 3.59 ERA) went eight innings, allowed three runs on six hits and two walks, and struck out five.
Michael Kenui, 21, made things a little interesting in the ninth, walking his first two batters. Then the 2009 Waiakea graduate got a mound visit from pitching coach Mahan, found the strike zone and moved down the next three hitters, all on strikeouts.
“I was throwing across my body, not throwing to the catcher but to the hitter,” Kenui said. “It affected where I was throwing my two-seamer. It tailed in. Once I found it, my two-seamer moved into the strike zone.”
After walking into trouble, with two free passes, and building some drama, the right-handed reliever struck out the side, pitching in polar opposites to close out the game.
“I felt good after the first strikeout,” he said. “That pumped me up, and I wanted to get a little more.”
Pacifics starter Brian Gump went seven innings, gave up six runs and took the loss. Will Krasne mopped up with an inning of one-run relief.
Loeffler suffered only an inconvenient speed bump. He got stung by the gopher ball twice, giving up a solo homer to Chase Fontaine in the second inning, and a two-run rocket in the eighth to Johnny Woodward, now the league leader with seven home runs. Jova is second with six.
“I came out not feeling too good. My elbow was a little tender,” Loeffler said. “I couldn’t give it my all on my fastball. I threw my curveball and changeup for strikes and used my fastball as a show-me pitch. I made two mistakes. I gave them fastballs on 3-0 and 2-0 counts, and they hit it out. Other than that, I thought I did all right.
“The home atmosphere helps. Having Hilo behind me gives me more adrenaline. I want to do good in front of the fans.”
Meanwhile, Jova extended his hitting streak to 36 games with a single on an 0-2 count in the fourth inning. Jova, 31, batted .346 (9-for-26) with six RBIs against the Stars during last week’s six-game series. The Pacifics right fielder went 2-for-4 and is still leading the league with a .380 batting average.
“I don’t think about it. I go up to home plate and swing,” he said. “Every time I swing the bat I seem to get a hit. My timing is good. Sometimes it’s bad. I’m having fun every day. I like everything.”
Jova defected from Cuba and was signed to a free agent contract by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001, reaching as high as Triple-A in ’06. After that season, he was released and has been in independent ball ever since. Last year, he played for a pair of teams, including the NABL’s now-defunct Lake County Fielders, batting .333 in 11 games.
Stars outfielder Steve Tedesco also stretched his hitting streak to 15 games with a run-scoring Texas Leaguer during a four-run, fifth-inning rally. Tedesco, 24, finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and bumped his batting average to .315.
Arnoldo Ponce went 2-for-3, Reece Alnas went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Jason Thomas was 2-for-4 with two RBIs to enrich Hawaii’s offensive production, which included hits by everyone in the lineup except Matt Hibbert and Dion Pouncil.
Jova had a bloop single in the fourth. Loeffler fired a high fastball on Jova’s hands, but the stocky 6-foot, 205-pound outfielder got the bat head out and dunked a single to right field. His hard-hit single down the third-base line in the sixth probably killed a few worms.
“He’s good. I tried not to give him as much fastballs. I thought I had him on 0-2 on that fastball I threw up,” Loeffler said. “You’ve got to get ahead of him and keep the ball down, so you can get a ground ball.”
Besides being the team ace, Loeffler can also serve as pitching strategist. He’s the only pitcher to beat the Pacifics, and twice at that. If anything, his best advice is as old as the origin of a Texas Leaguer.
“We have to change speeds, throw strikes and get ahead in the count,” he said of pitching to the Pacifics, third in the league in team batting; Hawaii is seventh. “If you fall behind in the count and have to throw a fastball, they’re a pretty good fastball-hitting team. You can see by the two homers they hit off me.”
As it was, Jova got his hits, but Loeffler lived up to his certainty, picked up the win and remained unbeaten at home.
Pacifics 010 000 020 — 3 6 1
Stars 000 041 11x — 7 11 1