'Bows have chance to prove they are road-ready
It worked, so he's doing it again.
Exactly a year ago, Hawaii embarked on a new venture -- a preconference baseball road series.
The Rainbows left the islands 9-3 and returned from Loyola-Marymount at 12-3. Coach Mike Trapasso said it was a key to UH's best baseball season in more than a decade.
"We swept 'em, and that really got things going for us last year," Trapasso said yesterday, as the Rainbows prepared for a similar trip to Southern California, this time to play UC Santa Barbara in single games tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.
UH is 7-2 and has won five games in a row after sweeping three from Pacific last week. UCSB is 1-1 after splitting at San Jose State last week; a third game was rained out.
These will be the 2007 Rainbows' first innings away from home. Trapasso doesn't want to compare this team to the 2006 edition that went to the NCAA Regionals, but agrees now is a fine time for the Rainbows to stretch their legs.
"The timing is very good for us. When you play a lot at home you run the risk of getting too comfortable, not to say these guys would. These kids know they're not good enough to get comfortable. That's the day you get hammered," the sixth-year UH head coach said. "If you're going to go to the postseason, you have to win on the road. And if you get to the postseason, you have to be able to win on the road to advance."
The Rainbows take on the Gauchos with a solid rotation of lefties Ian Harrington (2-1, 4.20) and Mark Rodrigues (3-0, 1.72) and right-hander Josh Schneider (0-0, 0.00 in 11 innings). It will be interesting to see if those ERAs balloon away from pitcher-friendly Les Murakami Stadium.
"If you play your game and execute, pitch down in the zone, it doesn't matter where you play," Trapasso said.
Catcher Landon Hernandez echoed that.
"Hitter's park or not, you have to work with the down angle. If you keep the ball up, it'll hurt you wherever you're playing," Hernandez said.
UCSB counters with Steve Morlock (0-1, 0.00), left-hander Jeff Braun (0-0, 5.40) and Mike Ford (0-0, 0.00). Morlock lost at San Jose State despite allowing no earned runs in five innings, striking out five and walking none while yielding seven hits and one unearned run.
Trapasso is concerned about the Rainbows maintaining their intensity despite the score. They've let opponents back into games they were seeming to dominate twice in the early going.
"We had a 4-0 lead in the sixth inning (Saturday against Pacific) and our whole demeanor changed," Trapasso said. "We acted like the game was in the books and went on cruise control. We gave some at-bats away and all of a sudden we're in a dogfight. We need to be locked in and intense every at-bat, every pitch."
The Rainbows hung on to win 4-3, but the coach's point is clear.
The return of injured second baseman Jon Hee might elevate the focus.
"He will play, there's no doubt," Trapasso said of Hee, who subluxed his left shoulder on opening night last month. "We won't know if he'll start until we get there."
Hee's replacement, Nate Young, swung a hot bat (.462) against Pacific, so that's a consideration in not rushing the starter back too quickly.
Speaking of hot hitting, research by the UH sports media relations department indicates that first baseman Kris Sanchez's home runs in three consecutive home games is a first for a UH player.
Three streaks of homers in four straight games -- two by Joey Meyer, one by Markus Owens -- were discovered.
But in all three cases, at least two of the games were on the road.
The research found six other streaks of players hitting a homer in three consecutive games, but all on the road.
Sanchez (.543, three HRs, 19 RBIs) has hit safely in all nine games this season, and has a 13-game hitting streak going back to last year.