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Hungry Rainbows begin


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POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Short on seniors but battle-tested, Hawaii opened spring baseball practice yesterday hoping last year's growing pains will pay off this season.

“;We were young last year in that we had a lot of freshman and sophomores that got significant playing time,”; eighth-year coach Mike Trapasso said. “;A lot of those guys have a year under their belt, are a year more experienced, a year more mature, and hopefully a year more stronger.”;

All-Western Athletic Conference pitcher Jared Alexander is one of six seniors back for a final year. The class also includes catcher Landon Hernandez, who flirted with going pro and is a key to the Rainbows improving from 29-31 and 18-14 (second in the WAC).

“;There's a guy who's been a two-year starter,”; Trapasso said. “;He didn't have the year offensively that he's capable of having last year. If he just goes and does what he's capable of doing offensively, with the way he catches and throws, he'll improve his draft status drastically.”;

Hernandez's return is a big boost to the Rainbows in many areas. His experience managing the pitching staff is immeasurable and his leadership qualities will be valuable, especially for 15 newcomers.

“;He's a big-time leader on this team,”; junior Vinnie Catricala said. “;He's been here all four years and knows what's going on. Whenever the young guys have a question or something to talk about, they always go to Landon.”;

Plus, with Hernandez behind the plate, freshman Kolten Wong, who played catcher in high school, can play second base or in center field—two areas where Hawaii has to replace key people from last year's team.

Seven of nine starters are back. The weeks before the opener Feb. 20 at Les Murakami Stadium against UC Irvine will be spent figuring out who takes over for All-WAC players Jon Hee and Brandon Haislet.

“;You're not going to replace a gold glove shortstop in Jon Hee, and we'll really see what Brandon Haislet was to us defensively with the way he ran balls down (in center field), but we've got good guys that we can place in their spots,”; Trapasso said.

Seniors Shane Hoey and Ryan Morford are expected to contend for the starting spot at second, but Trapasso didn't rule out Wong, or even Greg Garcia moving from shortstop, although that's not quite as likely.

The Rainbows are deep in the outfield. Jeff Van Doornum, Matt Roquemore and Sean Montplaisir all had significant playing time last season, and junior college transfer Christian Johnson is “;capable of being an everyday player,”; said Trapasso.

“;We've got flexibility in the outfield, definitely,”; he said.

But as Trapasso was quick to point out, “;It's about the pitching and making sure you got guys that can throw strikes.”;

The Rainbows have that in Alexander, who went 7-3 with a 3.27 ERA before an arm injury ended his season early. Senior Alex Bates, who never fully recovered from tendinitis in his arm last season, could also lead the rotation.

Sam Spangler, Alex Capaul and Josh Slaats were thrust into action early as freshmen last year. Their development is key.

“;We only have 13 pitchers and they're all going to make an impact some way, some how,”; Hernandez said. “;This year I think we have more depth than usual, in that pretty much everyone can pitch.”;

Hawaii opens with a four-game series against the Anteaters, who were three outs away from a trip to the College World Series last year.

The Rainbows close the month with a trip to Minnesota for games in the Metrodome against Washington, UC Santa Barbara and the Gophers.