Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Rainbows will be
dressed for success

BASEBALL is such a superstitious sport, according to Les Murakami, University of Hawaii's head coach for as long as anybody can remember.

Or, in the case of his critics, for as long as they don't want to remember.

His baseball 'Bows hurriedly left last night for the Western Athletic Conference tournament starting tomorrow in Fresno, Calif.

It's their first WAC postseason tournament since 1992, so they've got to be excited along with their fans.

Team equipment manager Ken "Froggie" Fujimura won't forget to pack two sets of traveling uniforms - grays and green-whites - even if the Rainbows might only use one of them.

"If we win the first game (against TCU), we're going to wear the same uniform for the second game," Murakami said.

Hey, Murakami is not about to buck superstition or fool around with success.

It seems that the Rainbows won seven of eight games on their last road trip to successfully qualify for the WAC tournament by wearing the same set of uniforms.

Of course, the soiled uniforms were laundered after each game, Murakami quickly assured those listening before they could wrinkle their noses.

And it was that remarkable showing on the road that turned the season around for the Rainbows, left for dead after getting swept by Rice.

THEY were 8-13 in the WAC and seemed headed for another postseason shutout. But the 'Bows won seven of their remaining eight games to secure a WAC berth.

Saturday's 4-2 victory over New Mexico proved bigger than Murakami imagined, considering Sunday's rainout.

It enabled the Rainbows to be seeded fifth instead of sixth. So they'll meet second-seeded Texas Christian instead of top-ranked Rice in the tournament opener.

"I think we have a great seed," Murakami said. "I didn't want to play Rice right away. They're in a class by themselves, although they lost to Air Force."

Still, Murakami added, "You never know in a short tournament."

With a 38-16 record and the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, Murakami likes his chances of going to the regionals.

"We have to win at least two games," Murakami said. "Even then there's no guarantee. You never know what the NCAA is going to do."

But the team is loose and playing with confidence, according to Murakami. "You've got to like this team. They don't know how good they aren't."

INTERESTINGLY, pitching depth might carry the Rainbows in the WAC tournament and right on into the regionals.

"When three starting pitchers went down, I started a reliever and a second-line pitcher," said Murakami, adding that they've earned the right to keep starting.

"It turned out to be a blessing in disguise," he said.

The "second-line" pitcher, Dusty Bergman, is now Murakami's ace-in-the-hole.

"He's the best pitcher right now. I told him, 'every time you pitch, you're money in the bank,' " Murakami said.

He feels that Bergman, who wasn't drafted out of high school, is guaranteed to be selected in the first three rounds in baseball's summer draft.

"Until four weeks ago, he was mentally shaky. We didn't BS him. We told him, he needed to develop mental toughness.

"Now he's our hottest pitcher. The guy who won three games (Utah, Air Force and a night game at San Diego State) in cold country."

Bergman will pitch tomorrow's first game and a lot is riding on it. Like, wearing the same uniforms, for one.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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