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StarBulletin.com

UH pitcher Spangler off to fast start


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POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hawaii reliever Sam Spangler found himself in quite a few exciting situations last year as a redshirt freshman.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the right kind of excitement for a relief pitcher.

The sophomore left-hander made 21 appearances in 2008, finishing with a 1-3 record and 6.75 ERA in 21 1/3 innings.

But every time he toed the rubber, he found himself pitching in tight spots. A combination of 29 walks and 19 hits allowed meant he averaged nearly two runners on base an inning, creating pressure-filled situations that are exciting for a fan, but not for a pitcher.

“;It wasn't easy for the team because I would go out there and walk guys and we lost a couple of games because I wasn't doing my job,”; Spangler said. “;I had to work through a number of tough situations and I wasn't ready. I didn't have the mind-set to go in there and do well in pressure situations.”;

Fast-forward a year and Spangler found himself in another pinch in last week's tournament in Minnesota. Hawaii led 2-0 in the fifth inning against the Golden Gophers on Sunday when Minnesota's first three batters reached base. Spangler inherited runners on first and second with nobody out and a runner already in.

Instead of agonizing over every throw and tensing up as he looked at the runners surrounding him, Spangler found himself smiling.

“;I remember in situations like that I'd be tentative and trying so hard not to let guys score,”; Spangler said. “;Last week I was thinking, “;This is a lot of fun. I'm going to get to leave a lot of guys on base.'”;

Spangler allowed Minnesota to tie the score, but that was it, as he recorded the final two outs by strikeout.

He went on to throw three more innings of shutout ball, and finished the tournament without allowing a run in 7 1/3 innings. He was named Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the week for his efforts.

“;He's made big strides over the last year,”; Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. “;He understands that control is his key, and any lefty that can pitch ahead in the count and throw strikes is going to be effective.”;

After last year's WAC tournament, in which Spangler said he had “;zero control,”; he played for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League.

He decided to put the entire UH season behind him and went out for his first start with a fresh mind. That, he says, wound up being one of two turning points.

“;I ditched everything I was thinking about back then and just went out and threw,”; Spangler said. “;I walked one guy in five innings and felt good about things.”;

The other came when he returned to UH in the fall. He worked with Trapasso to drop his arm angle to better control his pitches, and he instantly found success.

“;Once I got ahold of that, I could throw fastballs right where I wanted them and even if I walked a guy here and there, I wouldn't fall apart like I used to,”; Spangler said. “;That's the biggest thing. I can recover from that and not fall apart.”;

UH's ability to avoid other teams putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard has helped it hold opponents to five runs or fewer in all but one game this season.

Even in the Rainbows' 10-4 loss to UC Santa Barbara, the Gauchos never scored more than twice in an inning.

“;Coach Trap is real big on not giving up add-on runs, and I think we've done a good job of that,”; said Spangler, who has 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings and hasn't given up an earned run this season.

“;If you don't walk guys and you don't make errors in the field, it's hard for teams to spring together four or five runs in an inning, and that's what beats you.”;