’Bows back with momentum
UH’s DuPree provides needed offensive spark
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The Rainbow baseball team pulled itself out of the basement of the Western Athletic Conference by taking three of four games from San Jose State last weekend.
With its next eight games at home, Hawaii has a chance to gain even more ground on the conference leaders before hitting the season's stretch run.
Jared Alexander gets the start tomorrow night against New Mexico State as the 'Bows look to continue their climb up the standings.
Hawaii is second in the WAC with a 3.93 earned run average, but its offense has carried the load recently thanks to senior Derek DuPree, who is hitting .457 in league play.
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If Hawaii eventually makes something out of a season in which it lost 19 of its first 28 games, senior Derek DuPree will be one of the big reasons why.
Hawaii (13-20, 3-7 WAC) vs. New Mexico State (14-16, 4-4 WAC); tomorrow and Friday, 6:35 p.m.; Saturday (DH), 1:05 p.m.
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
DuPree, benched midway through the season, has returned to the lineup and is hitting .462 over his last eight games.
His spark at the top of the order has helped Hawaii win four of its last five games. More importantly, he's helped the Rainbows crawl back into the race for a Western Athletic Conference regular-season title.
"I think if we didn't turn things around (against San Jose State), then it was going to be too late," Dupree said.
One of only three four-year seniors that have been at UH the entire time, DuPree started 70 games his first two seasons with the 'Bows, He was the starting center fielder as a sophomore, when Hawaii reached the regional finals and hit .313.
A few weeks after the season ended, DuPree tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a mo-ped accident and wasn't the same during an up-and-down junior season.
"He came back the next year wearing a brace and just wasn't the same guy," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "Coming back this year, he seemed to start off where he did last year, but now we're seeing more of what we're used to seeing from him."
DuPree opened the season with the game-winning hit in extra innings against Hawaii-Hilo, but was 4-for-23 in his first six starts and lost his starting left field spot to freshman Sean Montplaisir.
He sat out seven straight games, including the entire opening WAC series against Fresno State, and was faced with the thought of spending his senior season on the bench.
Not one to sulk, DuPree remained optimistic he'd get another shot, and stayed focused on working in the batting cage to keep his swing sharp.
"You never know when you're going to get in there and get a chance," DuPree said. "It was frustrating at first going through it, but now it's made things a lot easier I think."
When Trapasso shuffled his lineup and moved Jon Hee to third in the order before the Stanford game, he put Montplaisir in the leadoff spot and inserted DuPree back into the two hole as a designated hitter.
Since then, DuPree is 13-for-26 with six runs scored and helped the Rainbows average nearly seven runs a game.
"Everything has been going my way," DuPree said. "I've just been focusing on keeping the ball out of the air."
DuPree is one of the most aggressive hitters in the Rainbows lineup and has been that way since he was a freshman.
He never gets cheated at the plate and sometimes frustrates his coach with his relentless passion to swing away at anything he sees. When the Rainbows were in the midst of their hitting woes, they started to become tentative with their swings.
Looking to jump-start his offense, Trapasso knew immediately where to look.
"He swings early and often and doesn't change his approach," Trapasso said. "He wasn't seeing the ball well early on. Now he's doing a great job battling with two strikes and hitting the ball to all fields."
DuPree, Hee and Ryan Asato are the only three seniors on the team that have been at UH all four years. DuPree hit behind Hee in the order at the start of the season and hoped to be the senior catalysts.
Things didn't work out, but now with Hee hitting behind DuPree, the combination has resulted in a Rainbows offense that has had at least 10 hits in seven of its last eight games.
"When we moved Jon to the three hole and put "Dups" in the two hole, I think that those guys swinging well back-to-back started giving us some punch at the top of the order," Trapasso said.
The Rainbows went 16 games scoring four runs or less, but have topped the mark in all but one game since.
They'll need to continue their hot hitting against a New Mexico State team that is fourth in the NCAA averaging 9.8 runs per game.
Joseph Scaperotta leads the WAC with 11 home runs and the Aggies have already hit more homers than all of last year.
Ten different Aggies are hitting over .300 and first baseman Chris Auten is tied for the league lead in hits with 45.
"There's no doubt they can hit," Trapasso said. "They are an offensive ball club. They've got great numbers."
Jared Alexander will start the opener tomorrow night and Nick Rhodes will go on Friday.