FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nine UH seniors will play their final home games starting today against Utah Valley. Saying aloha are, from left, Josh Schneider, Evan Zimny, Brandon Haislet, Cameron Wheeler, Nick Rhodes, Ryan Asato, Derek DuPree, Cory Kahn and Jon Hee.
UH seniors want parting present
The Rainbows are determined to secure a regional baseball berth
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Of all the things the Rainbow baseball team loses with its senior class, the "tootie dance" might be the toughest thing to replace.
Utah Valley (15-35-1) at Hawaii (26-27, 18-14 WAC)
When: Today-Saturday, 6:35 p.m.
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Nick Rhodes, the unanimous selection as the biggest jokester among the nine-member senior class, celebrates every Hawaii series win by entertaining the team with some special locker room dance moves.
"It's real spontaneous," Rhodes said. "We just put some Michael Jackson on and everyone gets a crack out of it. It's just something fun we do."
What do his teammates think about it?
"It's something unique," was the only way Josh Schneider could describe it.
Rhodes wouldn't preview the dance before yesterday's practice, but didn't discount the possibility of breaking it out during Saturday night's senior festivities if the Rainbows finish the season with a series win against Utah Valley.
Hawaii closes out the regular season with three games against the Wolverines beginning tonight.
Rhodes and Schneider will start the first two games, as Hawaii looks to finish at or above .500 and ride a wave of momentum into next week's WAC tournament.
Mid-Pacific graduate Jon Hee, one of three seniors who have been at UH at least four years, will close out a career that includes more than 200 hits in at least 180 games played.
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The Hawaii baseball team is just two years removed from playing in the NCAA regional tournament.
Three of the nine seniors playing in their final home games this weekend use that experience as a motivational tool for going back again.
"Definitely," said Derek DuPree, who, along with Jon Hee, is one of two fifth-year seniors. "That was the highlight."
DuPree, Hee and Ryan Asato were a part of the Rainbows squad that played four regional games in Corvallis, Ore., before being eliminated by eventual NCAA champion Oregon State.
But for the other six seniors, all two-year junior college transfers, they don't have the same experience to look back on.
That's why the hope for Brandon Haislet, Nick Rhodes, Josh Schneider, Cory Kahn, Cam Wheeler and Evan Zimny is that their most memorable moment as Rainbows hasn't happened.
Not until the next couple of weeks.
"I really believe that it's yet to come." Schneider said. "It's been such a fun ride, but I think we're all really looking forward to the WAC tournament."
Hawaii is 60-52 over the last two seasons and bowed out of the conference tournament last year after just three games.
The Rainbows (26-27) were all but left for dead after a 9-19 start left them 10 games below .500 and tied for last place in the WAC after two weeks.
Behind the example set forth from this senior class, Hawaii never panicked. Instead, after battling their way back, and after playing seven weeks of solid baseball, the Rainbows find themselves in a position to make a run in next week's WAC tournament as the likely third seed.
"Even when they were struggling, they never quit working and never stopped believing," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "They were fairly young and inexperienced and we're going through some struggles, but they never panicked and kept an even keel, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to the seniors."
Before the Rainbows' focus is entirely on the tournament, they will face Utah Valley in a three-game set beginning tonight.
Rhodes and Schneider will start the opening two games, with both hoping to punctuate their final appearances in Les Murakami Stadium with strong outings.
"It's always an honor to be starting at a Division I program like this," Rhodes said. "Obviously I'm going to give it all I got just like any other outing. I just want to end on a good note."
For Schneider, who has seen his number of starts cut in half from his junior to senior year, the nostalgia of playing his final home game won't hit him until he throws his final pitch.
"During the game, it's going to be easy to pretend like it's any other game," he said. "I think once the game is over, or coming out of the game, it's going to really start hitting me."
Hawaii won't have much time to celebrate senior night on Saturday. It will have to turn around the next day and catch a plane to Ruston, La., for next week's WAC tournament.
It probably works out for the better, because for all nine seniors, whether they were here two years or five, Saturday is only the beginning. What happens after that will be how they are remembered.
"The tournament obviously is going to define us as a team," Rhodes said.
"I definitely see a good moment coming up," Haislet added. "I see this team being capable of doing anything we want to do with the way we've been playing."
Rainbows Seniors say ALOHA
Ryan Asato, OF/DH
» Hit first career home run 11 days ago. Played in more than 50 games and is hitting a career-best .261 this season.
Derek DuPree, OF/DH
» One of two fifth-year seniors; had first four-hit game this season. Rainbows are 17-9 when he hits second in the batting order this year.
Brandon Haislet, OF
» Batting over .350 in two years with 47 extra-base hits and nine home runs. Two runs shy of 100 and has 78 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.
Jon Hee, IF
» Has started 138 games, with more than 100 coming at second base. Career .315 hitter with 208 hits and 135 runs scored. Hit two of his three home runs in the same game last weekend.
Cory Kahn, RHP
» Second on team with a 4.02 ERA. Appeared in 16 games this year with a 3-2 record.
Nick Rhodes, LHP
» Tied for second on the team with 10 starts. Stepped up as team's No. 2 starter after starting just two games all of last season.
Josh Schneider, RHP
» Has career 7-4 record and has started 17 games. Pitched a complete game against San Jose State on April 1, 2007.
Cameron Wheeler, RHP
» Appeared in 19 games without recording a loss. Fourth on the team with a 5.12 ERA this season.
Evan Zimny, OF/DH
» Made 11 starts as a senior, hitting a career-best .302. Had four hits in a game once and three hits three times.