UH BASEBALL: A LOOK BACK TO 1993
COURTESY UH ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
Corey Ishigo, second baseman on UH's 1993 squad, says coach Les Murakami put the idea in the players' heads early that they were bound for a regional.
’Bows back in business
Apana, Ishigo and others recall their experiences playing for UH's last NCAA regional baseball qualifier
When the Hawaii baseball team was awarded a berth in the NCAA regionals back in 1993, the announcement came as a jolt to several Rainbows.
Even more surprising would be how long UH would have to wait for its next invitation to the postseason.
Some 13 years since the Rainbows made a trip to College Station, Texas, for the regionals, Hawaii makes its long-awaited return to the NCAA tournament today against Big 12 tournament champion Kansas in Corvallis, Ore.
"It's shocking to think about how old I am when you think about 13 years," said Sy Farinas, the shortstop on the '93 squad.
Said former UH slugger Kenny Harrison: "I have a lot more gray hair than I had when I was in college, but it just seems like a huge number and it's weird in a way."
As this year's 'Bows embark on their regional run today, the program's alumni relish UH's return to the national stage.
"I think once a University of Hawaii team makes the postseason it kind of lights up the island," said former pitcher Matt Apana (1991-93). "Hopefully it continues, that's the main thing, the consistency."
Under the guidance of coach Les Murakami, Hawaii was a consistent contender for the regionals throughout the 1980s and early '90s. UH's selection in 1993 marked its third straight regional berth and 11th over a 17-year span.
UH had come tantalizingly close to reaching the College World Series the previous two years, losing to Creighton in the final round of the West I regional at USC in 1991, and falling to eventual national champion Pepperdine in the 1992 West regional at Arizona.
So the Rainbows entered the following season confident the string of regional appearances would continue.
"I think Coach Les put it into our minds that we were going to a regional from the beginning of the year, it was just a matter of where we were going," said second baseman Corey Ishigo (1992-95).
"There was a good mix of locals and people from the mainland. Everybody was close when it came on the field, when we played together it seemed like we were a family."
COURTESY UH ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
Catcher Tyler Cheff and second baseman Corey Ishigo, starters on UH's 1993 squad, have stayed in baseball. Cheff, above, coaches at Hawaii Pacific.
After losing Scott Karl, Bill Blanchette, Levon Largusa and Brady Perreira off a loaded 1992 team, the Rainbows rebuilt their pitching staff around Apana, an unproven junior, and freshman Andrew McNally.
Apana pitched sparingly in 1992, but was called upon to start against Pepperdine with a trip to Omaha at stake. The Waves jumped on the sophomore on their way to 9-0 win. But Apana turned his rough night in Tucson into motivation for the following season.
"I think it made me tougher and a lot more focused, because the next year I just wanted to go out there and destroy everyone I could face," he said.
Apana set the tone for his junior year in the season opener against Arizona State -- more specifically in the top of the sixth inning of that contest, when he found himself in a bases-loaded jam and nobody out with future major leaguer Paul Lo Duca coming to bat.
"I had a 3-0 count, came back with two strikes and then got him out on a slider," recalled Apana, who then got a ground out and another strikeout to spark the Rainbows to a 9-4 win.
"I looked at that as a huge turning point. That pumped everyone up," he said.
Still, UH got off to a 12-11 start before running off 16 wins over its next 18 games, including a win over eventual CWS runner-up Wichita State in the title game of the Easter Tournament.
The team's momentum stalled with three one-run losses at Fresno State and they closed the regular season at 33-23, losing two of three at San Diego State to fall to 11-13 in Western Athletic Conference play.
Given their record and stumbling finish, the call from the NCAA caught some of the Rainbows off guard.
"Half the team, the mainland kids, went home," said catcher Tyler Cheff (1991-94). "One kid (third-baseman Eddie Moulaison) was camping and his mom had to go up in the mountains and find him."
Others were more confident the season would continue.
COURTESY UH ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
Ishigo has had success leading Kailua's program.
"I wasn't surprised because our schedule was tough," Harrison said. "So even though the record might not have shown how good we were, we played against good players and good teams. ... I would have been very disappointed if we didn't make it."
But getting back into gear after idling for 10 days proved difficult and UH's stay in College Station was relatively brief. They edged North Carolina 9-8 in the opening round, then lost to UCLA 9-4 the next day and were eliminated in a rematch with North Carolina 10-8.
"It was just a solid tournament with a lot of good teams," Apana said. "I'm sure we could have played better, but we weren't peaking at that time, so it was a lot different than the two previous years."
Still, the 'Bows hold fond memories of their weekend in Texas.
"There's just some things that stick out in your life," Farinas said. "We only won one game, but that was obviously a highlight."
The regional capped a spectacular senior year for Harrison, who hit .389 with eight home runs and 60 RBIs. He started at catcher, first base and in center field and was named a first-team All-American by the College Baseball Writers Association as a utility player.
"It was great year for me. I finally got to play every single day," said Harrison, who now works as sales manager with Pacific Basin Communications and has four sons ranging in age from 2 to 9.
"It was a challenge, but I had the opportunity and I ran with it, and it offered me the (chance to play professional ball) and do something I love and get paid after college."
Franz Yuen slammed a team-high nine homers and hit .326. Ishigo started all 59 games, ranked second on the team in batting at .338 and scored a team-high 61 runs.
On the mound, Apana led the Rainbows with an 11-6 mark, and McNally went 9-5 as a freshman.
UH's run of regionals ended with a 28-28 year in 1994 and the Rainbows would have to wait more than a decade for another taste of NCAA tournament action.
Several members of the 1993 team have stayed involved in the game as coaches. Ishigo has led Kailua to five Oahu Interscholastic Association titles.
Cheff and Apana spent time scouting this year's UH club as assistant coaches at Hawaii Pacific University, which lost to the Rainbows in February.
"They've got the starting pitching, that's for sure," Cheff said. "They've got some scrappy hitters, they put the ball in play and they've got some speed, solid defense too, so they have a decent shot."
With the 'Bows ending the drought in coach Mike Trapasso's fifth year at UH, the alumni hope it signals the start of another era of packed houses and regional appearances for the program.
"Back then baseball was electric," Harrison said. "And hopefully this puts it back on the radar here in Hawaii."