Sophomore pitcher throws a complete game, drives in game-tying run as Warriors take out Apollos

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Aloha senior Gage Holman and the Warriors beat Sunset 3-2 in its Metro League opener on Tuesday.

There's a mountain of Metro League games ahead, a legion of legit teams to conquer.

But if the journey back to relevance and the road back to the playoffs begins with a single step, Aloha took a giant one in the right direction on Tuesday.

Confronted by a Sunset team that had won seven in a row coming in, Aloha exorcised a demon or two, receiving a clutch complete game outing from sophomore pitcher Nathan Acuavera, timely fifth inning offense and a handful of defensive gems in the Warriors' 3-2 win at Aloha High School.

The Warriors, who missed the postseason a year ago, are 1-0 in Metro for the first time in head coach Tige McSwain's tenure, a sweet feat for an Aloha club that vehemently said it's started anew. The Warriors (5-4) are riding a four-game win streak and have already matched last season's win total just three days into April.

"We're coming big for the Metro League," Acuavera said. "The rest of the league should be ready to play us and not think it's gonna be an easy dub like it has been in past years. Teams aren't going to run over us anymore. Our intensity, our confidence, our hitting ability...I liked it all today."

"I think we're a lot better team than people make us out to be," Aloha junior third baseman Zach Williams said. "We're a little slept on and shouldn't be as lowly ranked as we are. This shows a lot of people we're not something to joke around with like we were in the past. We're here to play this year."

Acuavera is Aloha's anchor in the infield and its number two starter in the rotation, but against a scorching Sunset lineup, the sophomore pitched like an ace. The Apollos put runners in scoring position in every inning except the fifth. In the seventh Sunset loaded the bases after Danner Wintle walked, Tyler Sumner singled and Isaac Lovings was a hit by a pitch with two outs. But every time Acuavera was tested, he stood tall. With the bags full, Acuavera coaxed a pop-up in the infield from the bat of Tomo Horie to end the game.

"I went in thinking I was the best player on the field," Acuavera said. "Even if they got a hit, I didn't let it get to me. It made me feel like I could put the team on my back and pull through."

Sunset used small ball to grab a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth thanks to a bunt RBI single from Nate McGuire and a sacrifice bunt by Mitch Scanlan.

But Aloha answered with consecutive singles from Travis Helm and Dean Clark in the bottom of the fifth. Then Acuavera squared up a Coleman Newsom offering and smoked the game-tying double to the left field fence, 2-2.

"I told my team I could do it and told them I wanted to do it, too," Acuavera said.

And senior catcher Paysen Manning put the Warriors ahead for good with an ensuing sacrifice fly that claimed a 3-2 lead.

"Our team was chugging like a train at that point," Acuavera said. "We were coming in hot."

Aloha didn't beat themselves, as was sometimes the case last season when the Warriors would get great pitching on the hill, but throw games away with errors and misplays in the field. Case in point came in the sixth when Horie hit a double and Loggan Davis was hit by a pitch with nobody out. Sunset junior Jared Campbell hit a grounder to Clark who threw to third to get the lead runner for the first out. McGuire ripped a screamer right at Williams, who caught the heater off the tips of the infield grass and nabbed Davis who was leading too far off second base for the inning-ending double play.

"That got me really hyped," Williams said with a smile. "Defensively we've had trouble in the past, but this year our infield is solid, our outfield is solid. That's a big change from last year."

Williams made a trio of key stanza closing defensive plays with runners in scoring position and roped a sixth-inning double. And when the Apollos put men on base, Aloha limited the damage down to practically nothing, sans the two-run fourth. Credit that to Acuavera keeping Sunset off-kilter and his defense behind for having his back.

There was a palpable buzz about the Warriors both in the dugout and on the field. After each big play, be it a Jon Reyes triple in the third or Clark's ensuing RBI double, Williams' double play, or Acuavera helping his own cause at the plate, Aloha played with an impassioned intensity. Every big play was met with emotion and animation. Aloha knew this was a big game and initiated the energy.

"That's what gives us confidence," Williams said. "Having confidence in each other ourselves and playing like that is our big thing. We get hyped, it gets the team hyped up and passes along to everybody."

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