Still-thawing WSU warming up
The No. 12 Shockers bring a baseball brand name for the 'Bows to test themselves against
As it has every odd-numbered year going back to 1981, the Wichita State baseball team is coming in from the cold to Hawaii.
It's especially true this time. Coach Gene Stephenson said the Kansas winter was so bad that WSU was barely able to practice before opening its season at Pepperdine last week.
This week the Shockers are in the islands. They won both ends of a doubleheader at Hawaii-Hilo yesterday to complete a sweep of their four-game series there and arrived in Honolulu last night. No. 12 Wichita State (5-2) opens a three game series against Hawaii (9-3) tomorrow.
ON THE MOUND
Who: Wichita State (5-2) at Hawaii (9-3)
When: Tomorrow and Friday, 6:35 p.m., Saturday 1:05 p.m.
Where: Les Murakami Stadium
TV: Friday and Sunday, KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: All three games, KKEA, 1420-AM
Tickets: $7 in blue and orange sections; $6 (adults), $5 (seniors), $3 (students) in red sections.
Promotion: All active, reserve and retired members of the armed services can get two tickets for the price of one.
Stephenson, the winningest active coach in college baseball, said he wishes he'd had more time to prepare his team for the start of the season. But Mother Nature had other ideas.
"We had just three practices in 20-degree weather and no indoor workout place," Stephenson said. "We're learning quick, but we're doing some crazy things."
At Hilo, though, talent outweighed any problems for WSU and the closest score was 7-3 on Tuesday.
The Shocker bats have certainly defrosted. Outfielder and leadoff batter Andy Dirks is hitting .370 and second baseman/relief pitcher Damon Sublett is at .367.
WSU returns nearly all of its starting pitching, including third-team All-American Aaron Shafer.
"Looking at where they were a couple years ago when they were here in our tournament they had a very young but talented team," UH coach Mike Trapasso said.
"So you knew when those kids were juniors, seniors they were really going to be good. That's evidenced by the preseason ranking that they've received, the talent level that they have. They're definitely one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country."
The Rainbows, with power hitting by first baseman Kris Sanchez and consistently solid pitching, have won seven of their last eight games and all four series.
They could draw some attention from the pollsters if they take at least two out of three from the Shockers. But even if they do, they probably won't get ranked unless they handle Chicago State next week and Arizona the following.
Catcher Landon Hernandez said the Rainbows are excited to play a brand-name opponent.
"Wichita's always going to bring a good team. They're going to come out and compete. We have to use the home field to our advantage."
Outfielder Derek DuPree was to the point.
"We have to win two out of three," he said.
It won't be the end of the world if they don't, since it's still early in the season. But it is somewhat of a rivalry, as the UH-WSU series goes back to 1981 (the Shockers lead it 17-15). And Trapasso, who is in his sixth year as Hawaii's coach, has a history with Stephenson that goes back almost as far.
"I wanted to go there, but they stopped recruiting me. At the time they were mainly going after high school guys and I was a JC guy. It was the year they finished second to Miami, but still ranked No. 1 in Baseball America's final poll."
Trapasso ended up at Oklahoma State, and his pitching in the Regionals helped get the Cowboys past the Shockers and into the College World Series.
"During my senior year (1985) we played early in the season at our place and got hit around. I pitched in relief at their place and did well," Trapasso said.
"Twice in the Regional, and got a win and a save. Both teams deserved to go to Omaha."
He said Stephenson did "one of the smartest things I've ever seen," when he intentionally walked Pete Incaviglia every time the OSU slugger (48 homers that year) came to the plate.
"I really like playing against Gene because I learn something every time," Trapasso said.