DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
With nine career collegiate starts, Matt Daly is the veteran of Hawaii's starting rotation. He will start tomorrow's opener.
Youthful Rainbows open with Vulcans
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Two years ago, the UH baseball team reached its peak under coach Mike Trapasso.
Hawaii vs. UH-Hilo
When: Feb 15-17 At Les Murakami Stadium Tomorrow, 6:35 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
TV: KFVE (Sunday only)
Tickets: $8 for seats in the blue and orange sections; $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for UH students and students ages 4-18 in the red section. Series: UH leads the all-time series 106-19
The Rainbows won 45 games and advanced to the NCAA Regionals before losing to Oregon State.
Last year, the team had similar expectations, but fell well short of their goal, ousted by Nevada early in the WAC tournament.
As Trapasso enters his seventh year, the Rainbows have more questions than answers as they open the season tomorrow night with a three-game series against UH-Hilo at Les Murakami Stadium.
"You can talk about all the things you want, but pitching is what sets the tone," Trapasso said.
Junior Matt Daly will toe the rubber tomorrow night, but is the only starter this weekend with previous pitching experience for the Rainbows.
The rest of the rotation is a mystery-as is the bullpen-as Trapasso takes a wait and see approach on how his guys perform in game situations.
Defensively, the infield features three new starters. Catcher Landon Hernandez and third baseman Vinnie Catricala will try to fill the power void in the middle of the lineup.
It's anybody's guess how well the Rainbows will fare this season, but it might come down to more than just the basics.
"If there's one thing honestly that you can hang your hat on and determine what the key to our success is this year, it has nothing to do with pitching, hitting or defense," Trapasso said. "It's all about toughness and it's something we really need to focus on. We have got to be tougher than we have ever been and if we can do that, we can overcome the inexperience and things like that."
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Matt Daly is a 21-year-old converted reliever who has made nine career collegiate starts.
It doesn't seem like much, but when you factor in the other starting pitching candidates for Hawaii (three freshman, two junior college transfers and a senior with two career starts), it's enough to be considered the veteran of the group.
Daly, 11-4 over the last two seasons, will start tomorrow's season opener for the Rainbows in the first of a three-game series against UH-Hilo at Les Murakami Stadium.
"I can't wait to go out and face another team besides scrimmaging," Daly said. "With the lights on, it's going to be exciting."
The Rainbows have defeated their in-state rivals 13 times in a row. Daly threw a one-hit shutout in his last outing against the Vulcans, but outdid himself this summer in the Cape Cod (Mass.) league.
He had struggled to a 0-4 record and hadn't made it out of the fifth inning in his first four starts for the Hyannis Mets. But against the Wareham Gatemen, Daly threw 122 pitches in throwing the first no-hitter of his career.
"It was unbelievable," Daly said. "It was such a confidence boost."
Daly has been used primarily out of the bullpen for the Rainbows, but made seven starts late last season. The right-hander enters this year as the team's ace, but still has to show he can be a quality starter for a full season.
"It remains to be seen," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "He needs to just do his job and not worry about anything other than being aggressive and pitching as a starter like he pitches out of the bullpen, which is being aggressive and challenging hitters and not trying to pace himself or be too fine."
The Rainbows conclude the series with junior college transfer Jared Alexander and freshman Alex Capaul scheduled to start.
Daly, named to the preseason all-WAC team, assumes the role as the leader among the pitching staff. But he hasn't let it change the way he approaches a game.
"My whole thing has always been try to lead my example," Daly said. "When I go out, I just focus on one pitch at a time and just get each hitter out.
Instead of setting an example, I just try to get a rhythm for the team to kind of follow."
Junior Landon Hernandez reclaims the starting duties for the second straight year with junior Kevin Fujii as his backup. Fujii started just four games last year, but will have an increased role thanks to the schedule change.
First base: Sophomore Kevin Macdonald will try to replace Kris Sanchez and his 10 home runs and 66 RBIs. Macdonald hit .314 last year in 38 games. Junior college transfer Alex Myers would be the primary backup, but right now is ineligible. There is no timetable for when his situation will be cleared up.
Second base: Senior Jon Hee anchors the position and committed just five errors last year in 50 starts. He finished third on the team last season with a .345 batting average and 46 runs scored.
Shortstop: Freshman Greg Garcia and junior Nathan Young will split time in replacing departed senior Eli Christensen. Trapasso expects to use both quite a bit.
Third base: The other big hole to fill is the one left by Justin Frash, who was second on the team in batting average (.346), runs (50), hits (72) and doubles (19). Vinnie Catricala, who hit .307 and drove in 27 runs in 44 games as a freshman, replaces him as the starter at third.
Left field: Derek DuPree struggled last year coming off an ACL injury and hit .277 after hitting .313 as a sophomore. He's the healthiest he has been in two years and could be poised for a strong final year.
Center field: Brandon Haislet is UH's lone position player who made the preseason all-WAC team. He will bat lead off and led the team with 13 stolen bases in 2007. He will have to improve his strikeout (47) to walk (27) ratio.
Right field: Evan Zimny has played well enough to earn the starting spot, but will have to improve on his .234 batting average from a season ago. Zimny has hit the ball extremely well lately.
Backups: Shane Hoey and Ryan Morford both played shortstop in junior college, but can play any infield position. They both can execute according to Trapasso and also bring speed to the team. Matt Roquemore had a good fall and freshman Sean Montplaisir, who Trapasso says will be a real good player before he's done, will split time as the two main backups in the outfield.
Starting pitching: Daly, Alexander and Capaul are the starters this weekend, but expect freshmen Josh Slaats and Sam Spangler, who were impressive in the alumni game, to start games in the future. Senior Nicholas Rhodes and J.C. transfer Alex Bates are also in the mix, but Bates will be out another 2-4 weeks with tendinitis in his shoulder.
Relief pitching: It'll be bullpen by committee to start as Trapasso sees how his inexperienced crew does under the lights. Daly would be the closer if he's not in the rotation, but somebody is going to have to step up to take that spot.
Trapasso mentioned Bates, when he's healthy, and junior Jayson Kramer as two guys that could fill the closer role. Spangler may be used "all over the place" and Trapasso also has freshmen John Worthington, Tim Moore and Joey Parsons as well as junior Harrison Kuroda and seniors Cameron Wheeler and Cory Kahn at his disposal.