Mathematically, the Hawaii Stars are still on playoff life support, but the loud hammering sound of nails to their coffin grows much louder with each impending loss.
The Stars took it on the chin Wednesday night at Wong Stadium and fell hard to Na Koa Ikaika Maui, losing 5-0 in a North American Baseball League game Stadium that doubled as a simmering playground feud between the two related ballclubs.
The Stars (22-23) and Na Koa (27-24) will play the fourth game of a six-game series at 5:35 p.m. today at Wong Stadium. John Holley (0-2, 5.26 ERA) is scheduled to start for Hawaii.
Maui remains four games back of the North Division-leading San Rafael Pacifics, who dispatched the Sonoma County Grapes 4-1 on Wednesday to send the fading Stars six games back. Hawaii has nine games left.
Against Hawaii starter Bryan Herrera, Na Koa took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Chema Sanchez slapped an RBI single to score Danny Sandoval, who doubled. Then Herrera walked the next two batters to create a bases-loaded mess. But he struck out Joe Kala on four pitches to turn off the lights on that threat.
In the sixth, Kala found redemption with a sacrifice fly, and Victor Ferrante, Maui’s closer and the night’s designated hitter, belted a run-scoring double for a 3-0 lead that seemed 10 times larger the way Chad Blackwell was pitching.
Kala also belted a two-run double in the eighth off Herrera. He went 1-for-3 with three RBIs, and Sanchez was 2-for-3.
Dion Pouncil went 3-for-4, and Keoni Manago was 2-for-4 to lead the Stars, who had more hits than Na Koa (8-6), but none were timely.
Blackwell (7-1, 2.77 ERA), a sixth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2004, was the beneficiary of solid defensive play. Maui turned two double plays and committed no errors, and catcher Nick Valdez gunned down a runner.
Blackwell allowed eight hits, walked one and whiffed eight in his complete-game gem.
In the fifth, Herrera beaned Keith Kendal, who took a wide arc heading to first base. The Maui center fielder was quite displeased. It came on the heels of Hawaii shortstop Arnoldo Ponce getting plunked by Ferrante, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies as an outfielder, on Tuesday night.
It was likely not on purpose because the Stars won 3-2 in 11 innings. Still, Ponce sat out Wednesday’s game.
Hawaii and Maui are basically brothers, both owned by Bob Young. The two teams spent the spring together. But like siblings, sometimes one gets under the skin of the other.
“We’ve had a couple of instances. But most of the guys like each other,” Blackwell said. “But once we step between the lines, it’s a battle, and no one likes to lose.”
Stars manager Garry Templeton Jr. agreed — about the competitive part.
“It’s always like that when you play the same team six times or 12 times in a row,” he said. “Once you take the field, everybody is competitive and wants to win.”
For his part, Herrera’s numbers got bloated after Kala’s eighth-inning double. Herrera (3-3, 4.99 ERA) took the loss after lasting 7 1/3 innings. The left-hander gave up five runs on six hits and five walks, and struck out six.
Hawaii reliever Michael Kenui struck out two in 1 2/3 innings, entering one batter too late after Kala turned a 3-0 deficit into a 5-0 death sentence, with the way his ballclub struggles to score runs. The Stars put two on with one out in the ninth; the next two hitters struck out.
Game over and no joy in Mudville.
“I thought Herrera did a good job. He kept us in the game,” Templeton said. “But you can’t win games if you can’t score runs.”
The Stars manager is good at getting right to the point. He’s more weatherman than politician, stating that it’s not a beautiful, sunny day if it’s raining. Templeton hears the nails on his team’s coffin.
“Basically, we have to win out and hope to have help from Maui and San Rafael,” he said. “We know we have to win the rest of our games if we’re to have a chance.”
Notes: Today’s game is Little League Night at the Park, with free admission for children age 12 years old and younger. Autographed bats, balls and T-shirts will be given away. Autograph sessions from Stars will continue to be held from 4:50 to 5:20 p.m. in the lobby area. There will be free admission for the youngsters on Friday night, too.
Maui 100 002 020 — 5 6 0
Hawaii 000 000 000 — 0 8 1
Hilo RBI softball team drops two more games
Runs are still hard to come by for Hilo at the RBI Softball World Series.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island team lost twice for the second consecutive day, falling to 0-4 in pool play in Minneapolis.
Camille Kiyota and Chelsea Camello drove in runs, and Stacie Doi doubled in a 6-2 loss to Cleveland. Jordyn Waracka took the loss.
Waracka was also the losing pitcher in a 9-0 loss to Harrisburg, Pa. Harrisburg (4-0) beat Hilo 6-0 on Tuesday.
The Big Islanders, who have scored four runs in four games, face Cleveland (3-1) and Hoboken (1-3) today.