Rainbows looking forward to a repeat of 2006 season
UH's seniors set the tone for a return to the NCAA tournament
Team was the most important word for the 2006 Hawaii Rainbows and their drive to reach postseason play.
They stuck together when injuries hit, accepted the roles the coaches felt were best for the team's success, and focused on the task at hand in each game with the players available.
"We knew from the early practices in the fall that this was a good group of players who had character," said UH coach Mike Trapasso. "We knew if we kept an even keel we would have a chance to do well. A lot depended on us staying healthy."
A big factor was the seasons five seniors contributed after disappointing junior years.
Robbie Wilder stayed healthy for the first time in three years.
He became the leadoff hitter needed to ignite the offense, hitting .332 and leading UH with a .498 on-base percentage.
"We saw Robbie as a player who could run and swing the bat. He knew his job was to get on base. He wasn't afraid to hit with two strikes. He was a complete player who did all you could ask of a leadoff batter," Trapasso said.
Matt Inouye was the inspirational leader who the other players fed off for four years.
"When he was on the field, there was very high energy," Trapasso said. "Good players don't have two bad years in a row. You knew Matt would come back."
Inouye hit .347 this year with 40 runs batted in. He is tied for second on UH's all-time doubles list with 60.
Luis Avila and Kris Sanchez both had good fall practices and Trapasso wasn't sure how things were going to work out at first base. Avila struggled offensively in the spring and Sanchez stayed hot. He got the start at first base, but pulled a hamstring muscle in the second game of the season.
"Luis went back in there and he quickly got back to swinging the bat very well," said Trapasso. "It was a tough-luck deal for Kris because when he was ready (Justin) Frash was the designated hitter. Kris has an opportunity to do next year what Luis did this year."
A .227 hitter as a junior, Avila finished at .326 this year and led the 'Bows with 19 doubles, three triples, eight home runs and 58 RBIs.
Esteban Lopez increased his average 10 points to .260, but it was his improved ability in dealing with the UH pitchers that had him behind the plate in 52 games.
"His strength was how he handled the staff from a mental standpoint, beside his ability to catch and throw. Luis was invaluable," Trapasso said.
Justin Costi went from 2-5 as a junior to 8-2 as a senior and one reason was the right-hander threw his breaking ball for strikes more consistently this year. He also enjoyed more run support.
"Justin got over that hump where he could get through the lineup more than a couple times," Trapasso said. "He developed into a three-pitch pitcher and had the kind of year we hoped for when we recruited him," Trapasso said.
There is no question the immediate contributions of junior-college transfers Frash, Eli Christensen, Ian Harrington, and Tyler Davis were significant.
"We knew Eli would be good defensively, but we didn't anticipate him turning it on offensively in conference play," Trapasso said.
When Joe Spiers struggled defensively and offensively to start the season, Christensen took over at shortstop. That allowed Jon Hee to move to second and Frash to play third.
Frash led the team with a .359 average and was second with 56 RBIs. Christensen hit .301 overall but had a .377 batting average in Western Athletic Conference games.
Harrington, a left-hander, won nine games and had two complete-game efforts in the postseason when the Rainbows had to win or the season would be over.
Davis stepped it up when the conference season began and Rich Olsen saw limited and then no action before having Tommy John surgery. Davis, a right-hander, was used in long relief and closed at times.
Hee made the move to second effortlessly, played through a shoulder injury and finished at .284.
Sophomore outfielder Derek DuPree upped his average from .275 to .313 and did what the No. 2 batter is called upon to do: lay down the sacrifice bunt. He led UH with 10, one more than Hee who also batted No. 2 at times.
Having junior right-hander Steven Wright as the "Friday Pitcher" with his 11-2 record set the tone for many weekend series.
The Rainbows never lost more than two consecutive games in compiling at 45-17 record -- 17 more wins and 10 fewer defeats than in 2005.
The team acquitted itself well in the WAC postseason tournament and the NCAA tournament by coming back from first-game losses.
Trapasso says his incoming recruiting class will take care of the 'Bows' needs for 2007, although he plans to sign one more catcher so there is depth at that position.
"We'll expect to go out and have the same kind of year in 2007. The expectations of our fans won't exceed the expectations of our players," Trapasso said.
"We will just try to focus on the game of the day. We understand it is a marathon, not a sprint. Our goal will be to go to postseason, but our main objective is to expect to play well."
Notes: Steve Bralver, an outfielder and first baseman, who redshirted his first year and played in four games this year, asked for his release so he can transfer to a school where he has a chance of playing more. ... Trapasso is tinkering with his 2007 schedule, but nonconference teams coming in include Pacific, San Diego State, Arizona and Wichita State.