Eagles start season against Rainbows
Trapasso knows Georgia Southern is always competitive
Most Hawaii sports fans associate Georgia Southern with Paul Johnson. Johnson, now the Navy football coach, brought the spread option offense to Hawaii and then a Division I-AA national championship back to Statesboro when he returned to the south.
The Eagles can play baseball, too. They arrived Monday to open their season with a three-game series starting tomorrow, thanks to coach Rodney Hennon's connection with Rainbows coach Mike Trapasso. They know each other from when Trapasso, who arrived at UH in 2002, was the pitching coach at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets and Eagles still play each other four times a year.
"They've been to four regionals (since 1996)," Trapasso said. "Always a competitive team, always a team that's athletic. They'll go out there and play hard and make things happen. I don't think there's any question we'll see that out of them this year. Offensively, they've got pretty much all those guys back, and it's a team that hit over .300 last year."
The Eagles were 31-27 last year and haven't had a losing season since 1998. But they haven't advanced past the Southern Conference tournament since 2002.
"We've been there just as much as our more famous neighbors, Georgia and Georgia Tech, but not lately," senior right fielder Mike Economos said. "This year we're trying to make a run back into it."
Economos batted .310 with eight homers and a team-leading 51 RBIs. He's one of seven returning position starters, six of whom hit better than .300 in 2006.
Sophomore catcher Griffin Benedict is the son of Bruce Benedict, the former Atlanta Braves catcher who is now an NCAA basketball referee. Griffin Benedict batted .303 with five homers and 35 RBIs (second among returnees).
The Eagles' stats aren't as impressive on the mound, especially with the loss of 10-game winner Everett Teaford. Senior right-hander Josh Lairsey (3-6, 6.49) gets the opening-night start.
"We feel like we have more (pitching) depth as a whole," Hennon said. "Like most teams at this point, it's a matter of defining roles."
Senior righty A.J. Battisto (4-0, two saves, 6.59) is not in the rotation, but a lot will be expected from him. His win against ninth-ranked Georgia Tech last year was the Eagles' first against the Yellow Jackets in eight tries.
Battisto said most of the Georgia Southern pitchers will have to adjust to the vastness of Les Murakami Stadium and its artificial surface -- which is worn but fast.
"We'll be a lot more prone to like fly balls with the turf," said Battisto, who has never pitched on turf in college before. "And there's no bumps in the air."
Trapasso said he doesn't anticipate major changes for UH after winning two out of three against Santa Clara last week. Left-handers Ian Harrington and Mark Rodrigues remain at the front of the rotation, to be followed by a mystery man.
Trapasso described his pitching as "overall, pretty good" so far.
"The main concern I had going in was overall command and getting behind in the count and walking too many guys. We were better on the command side than I thought we would be," he said. "I think the jury's still out on the bullpen depth. (Sunday relievers Nick) Rhodes and (Josh) Schneider, I think they're going to be OK for us. They both just have to be more consistent in being down in the zone."
The Rainbows walked only five batters in the three games, but they also hit four.
UH batted .291 for the series, but left 13 runners on in Sunday's 3-2 loss. Only two of those LOBs were from the top third of the order, which was on base just three times in 15 trips.
Trapasso said he doesn't envision major tinkering at the top of the lineup.
"They just need to play and just stay within themselves. Hit to all fields. Obviously we need (injured) Derek DuPree and Jon Hee because those are two top-of-the-order guys. But we don't have them. Jorge (Franco), Nate (Young) and Justin (Frash) ... those guys will be fine."
Franco was on base four of nine times in the first two games, including a home run, but was 0-for-5 on Sunday.
"(Sunday) was just one of those days," the lead-off batter said. "I don't think I need to make any changes."
Young reached in three of 10 appearances and struck out four times (twice Sunday) after replacing Hee at second base.
"Sunday I was terrible. We didn't have our best approach at the plate at the top of the lineup. That is key to have the top of your lineup start off strong and get on base and create runs," Young said. "It's crucial and it's definitely something we'll be working on this week in practice."
Frash, who batted .357 last year, said he made an adjustment in practice yesterday after getting two hits in 11 at-bats (plus three walks).
"I was so pumped up for that series," he said. "We battled on Sunday, but came up just a little short. It's gonna happen sometimes."
Young said the Rainbows weren't surprised by Santa Clara's pitching depth.
"I think we were prepared to face anybody, even if they had 100 guys in their bullpen coming out to throw one pitch each," he said. "It's just the way it goes sometimes. We had two good games where we hit the ball well. Sunday wasn't our day."