Rainbows open tough stretch vs. Long Beach State
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After games against No. 4 Arizona State and No. 15 Michigan in the Coca-Cola Classic last weekend, it's hard to imagine Hawaii's schedule getting even tougher.
Long Beach State (6-2) at Hawaii (5-6); tomorrow and Saturday, 6:35 p.m., Sunday, 1:05 p.m.; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5, Friday and Sunday only; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM.
That's precisely the case for the Rainbows baseball team, however, as they begin a stretch of nine games in 12 days before opening WAC play March 20 against Fresno State.
Long Beach State, ranked 10th in this week's Baseball America poll, comes to town this weekend for a three-game set beginning tomorrow at 6:35 p.m.
Hawaii's upcoming stretch also includes a three-game road trip at No. 19 UC Irvine and a home date against No. 17 San Diego.
The Rainbows (5-6) have lost three in a row and are under .500 for the first time this season.
The Dirtbags have won four in a row, including a three-game sweep of No. 19 Wichita State last weekend.
Long Beach State pitchers have combined for a 1.89 ERA this season, and have 78 strikeouts while walking only 11.
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The story for the Hawaii baseball team this season is the ability of its young pitching staff to step in and contribute right away.
Against No. 10 Long Beach State, which comes to town this weekend for a three-game series beginning tomorrow, the focus will shift to the offensive side of the ball.
The Dirtbags (6-2) visit Les Murakami Stadium as one of the top pitching teams in the country. In eight games this season, Long Beach State has allowed more than three runs just once.
"There may not be a deeper pitching staff than Long Beach anywhere," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for our guys to face a team that truly could win a national championship."
Seniors Brandon Haislet and Jon Hee are the only two Rainbows to start every game this year, and they have carried the bulk of the offense.
Haislet is batting .421 and leads the team in runs (12), hits (16), and slugging (.632), while Hee is hitting .366 in the leadoff spot.
Long Beach State is hitting just .233 as a team, but has won six of its first eight games thanks to a dominant staff led by senior Andrew Liebel. Liebel hasn't given up an earned run in 15 1/3 innings and has struck out 22 while walking two.
Hawaii's schedule this season is tough, but doesn't compare to LBSU's, which has featured ranked teams in seven of its first eight games. Five of LBSU's six wins have come against Rice and Wichita State, which were ranked as high as sixth and seventh at the time.
"You want to measure yourself up against the best," Hawaii shortstop Greg Garcia said. "The competition level is only going to make us stronger."
Garcia's production on offense was one of the few promising things to come out of last week's tournament in Arizona. He broke a season-opening 1-for-17 slump with a three-hit game against Michigan and is beginning to feel more comfortable at the Division I level.
"The way he's dealing with adversity really tells me it's going to be a situation that's going to make him very good in the long run," Trapasso said. "He's handling it the right way."
Garcia, a true freshman, earned the start in the season opener, but needed 13 at-bats and five games before finally getting his first collegiate hit.
"Baseball is one of those games you fail seven out of 10 times and you're hitting .300," Garcia said. "I knew it was going to come. It was just a matter of time. The coaches kept me in the lineup even though I wasn't doing much with the bat and that was encouraging."
Hawaii's pitching rotation will change significantly this weekend, as junior Jared Alexander will start the opener. Matt Daly, who will be available to close tomorrow if needed, is scheduled to start Sunday, while Nicholas Rhodes will take the mound in the middle game of the series.
Freshman Alex Capaul had been the third starter, but will pitch out of the bullpen.
"We wanted to give Alex a break," Trapasso said. "Rhodes is the next guy in line and deserves a start."
Rhodes has an ERA of 7.04 in three relief appearances and has given up 10 hits and six runs in 7 2/3 innings. The crafty left-hander will go on Saturday night to avoid pitching during the day on Sunday.
"I wanted him to go at night because he's a finesse lefty," Trapasso explained. "Usually he's a little more effective under the lights."