Rainbows to host winless Panthers
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to thaw in Hawaii
THE FINAL tuneup series for Hawaii before the start of the Western Athletic Conference baseball season starts tomorrow.
The Rainbows host winless Wisconsin-Milwaukee in four games at Les Murakami Stadium. After tomorrow night's single game, there's a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday.
UH is 15-8 after winning one of three games against Arizona last week. The Panthers of UWM are 0-9 after getting swept in three-game sets at Arkansas, Kentucky (both ranked) and Austin Peay.
Hawaii originally had Miami scheduled for this week, but the Hurricanes pulled out.
"(UWM is) actually a solid club that went to a regional three years ago," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "They're off to a rough start and they played some good teams."
UH is scheduled to pitch Ian Harrington (3-4, 3.00), Mark Rodrigues (5-1, 2.58) and Josh Schneider (2-1, 1.85) in the first three games against Rob Michalkeiwicz (0-2, 4.67), Tom Hoy (0-0, 5.79) and Mike Rauwerdirk (0-3, 6.75). The Sunday starters for both teams are to be announced.
NEXT YEAR'S uniform start date of Feb. 22 for college baseball creates scheduling problems for Hawaii. But some coaches, like Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Scott Doffek, see the new NCAA rule proposed by the Big Ten as a leveling of the often-times frozen playing field.
The Rainbows (15-8), who host the Panthers in a four-game series this weekend, opened their season Jan. 26. Starting later in 2008 means Hawaii has to play more on the road, because it must schedule more midweek games to fill the 56-game regular-season slate.
Who: Wisconsin-Milwaukee (0-9) at Hawaii (15-8)
When: Tomorrow (6:35 p.m.), Saturday (doubleheader, first game 1:05 p.m.), Sunday (1:05 p.m.)
Where: Les Murakami Stadium
TV: Sunday's game, KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: All four games, KKEA, 1420-AM
Tickets: $7 in blue and orange sections; $6 (adults), $5 (seniors), $3 (students) in red sections
Promotion: "Students in Green Weekend" -- any UH system students wearing green shirts get in free. Students must present a validated Spring 2007 ID to get the free ticket. The first 200 students to enter the stadium on Saturday get a coupon for a free medium soft drink.
Hawaii will still be a favored early-season destination of schools from the Midwest and East, and UH and other warm-weather schools will still have early-season nonconference home-field advantages. But they won't have the edge of more games under their belts as often.
"You never can offset the weather," said Doffek, who noted there is still snow on the ground in Milwaukee. "We'll always be behind when it comes to practice. But we won't be so many games behind when we play teams from the South and West."
The Panthers (0-9) opened at Arkansas on Feb. 18, and lost three games by a combined 44-6. The Razorbacks had played six games before the series. Then UWM didn't play for 10 days, and was trounced three times at Kentucky, which was 9-0 going into the series. Last weekend, host Austin Peay, which had played three more games than UWM, pounded the visiting Panthers 37-6 in three games.
This will be the first time the Panthers visit Hawaii. They replace Miami, which was originally scheduled to play here this week but pulled out.
"We usually go to Florida, but we were able to work Hawaii where it's as cost-efficient," Doffek said. "It should be a great experience for our kids."
Wisconsin-Milwaukee doesn't play its first of 20 home games until April 6.
The tough schedule is compounded by this being a rebuilding year for UWM, which was 32-25 last year and 18-12 in the Horizon League.
"We lost 11 key seniors. Our best three or four hitters and our best three or four pitchers. We're searching for leadership and trying to figure out our roles. A positive is that our kids understand it's a process. They're looking at it as a marathon rather than a sprint," Doffek said. "When we opened up at Arkansas, we played competitively in the first game and we led 4-1 going into the seventh inning. But we didn't hang on, and our confidence has not been what it needs to be."
Hawaii gained confidence by hanging with Arizona last week despite losing two of three games to the No. 24 Wildcats.
"We definitely showed we can play with them," said left fielder and lead-off batter Derek DuPree, who went 5-for-13 against UH and is hitting .357 after getting a late start due to a summer knee injury.
Other than DuPree's knee and second baseman Jon Hee missing eight games with a shoulder ailment, the Rainbows have been very healthy nearing the midway point of the season.
"Knock on wood. Hopefully that continues," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "We talk about three H's we need -- be humble, play hard and stay healthy -- to win championships. The injuries are the one thing we don't really have control over."
The Rainbows are batting .297 as a team, and have also enjoyed tremendous pitching. Hawaii has a team ERA of 2.65 and opponents have scored three or fewer and 14 runs total in the last eight games, of which they've won six.