WAILUKU - This is becoming a disturbing trend for Na Koa Ikaika Maui.
The Valley Isle nine lost for the fifth time in seven games this season, coughing up a lead in the ninth inning and falling 6-5 to the San Rafael Pacifics in the opener of a six-game North American Baseball League series Tuesday night at Maehara Stadium.
It was the third time this year Maui has lost after holding a lead.
Na Koa Ikaika Maui manager Jamie Vermilyea
The crowd of 202 was the smallest of the season.
"It was a close one, but we have got to win those games," said Na Koa manager Jamie Vermilyea. "I know it is still early and we will figure it out. We are just kind of going through it right now. When we have those (big) innings, we just have to add on."
Maikel Jova, the league's leading hitter, delivered the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth on an RBI single that Maui center fielder Kalaika Kahoohalahala just missed catching on a dive.
The Pacific' Zack Pace walked to start the ninth, and was replaced on the bases by Darrick Hale on a fielder's choice. Pace then stole second base and scored on Tomochika Tsuboi's single to left field. Tsuboi took second on an error on the throw in from Waylen Sing Chow, and then scored on the hit by Jova, whose 3-for-5 night raised his batting average to .533.
The Pacific (4-3) had lost three games in a row.
"We hadn't played well the last three ballgames," said San Rafael manager Mike Marshall, who played in the major leagues from 1981 to 1991, primarily with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "It was a nice win. It was a great ballgame. I mean both teams played really well and executed. A lot was happening, so for us to play a complete game and come back - this is always such a difficult place to play and also a very talented club. So, for us to get a win, to sneak one out and make a comeback, it was nice to see."
Na Koa fell behind 1-0 in the top of the first. Hale led off with a single, took second on a passed ball, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a groundout.
Maui appeared to take control with a four-run third highlighted by Sing Chow's sacrifice fly, Danny Sandoval's RBI single and run-scoring doubles by A.J. Alexander and Nick Valdez.
Sing Chow, a former Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and University of Nevada standout, finished 3-for-4 with his first two RBIs of the season. He is second in the league in batting average at .462.
"Waylen has been a pleasant surprise, that is for sure," Vermilyea said. "I heard nothing but good things about him and he is definitely swinging the bat well and getting on base, so we are glad to have him right now."
San Rafael got a run back in the fourth - Jova singled to start the inning and scored on Will Wright's double. Maui starter Chad Blackwell got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam with a popout and a groundout.
The Pacifics climbed within 5-4 on when No. 8 hitter Matt Soderlund smacked a towering homer to right in the sixth for his first two RBIs of the year.
Na Koa got runners to second and third with no outs in the seventh on a walk to Chemah Sanchez, a single by Sing Chow and an error, but reliever Julian Arballo got a grounder to first by Sandoval, a shallow pop fly to right field by Valdez and a called third strike on Joseph Kala.
Vermilyea said Eri Yoshida, the "Knuckle Princess," will start on the mound Friday night. She went 7 2/3 innings in a win on Saturday, the best outing for a Maui starting pitcher this season.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Gump, Julian Arballo (7), Tyler Graham (9) and Matt Soderlund; Chad Blackwell, David Jensen (7), Vinnie St. John (7), Mike Koons (9) and Nick Valdez. W-Arballo, 1-1. L-Koons, 0-1. Sv-Graham, 1. 2B-SR, Will Wright; M, Valdez, A.J. Alexander. HR-SR, Soderlund (1).
Leading hitters-SR, Tomochika Tsuboi 2-4, run, RBI; Maikel Jova 3-5, run, RBI; Wright 2-4, run, RBI; Zack Pace 2-3. M, Waylen Sing Chow 3-4, 2 RBIs.