Thursday, February 25, 1999
Winning on the roadBy Al Chase
will be the key to a successful
season for the UH
The University of Hawaii baseball team enjoyed a fair amount of success during its first 14 years of road competition in the Western Athletic Conference.
It has been a different story the past five years with the 'Bows averaging just four victories per season on the mainland.
That is why UH head coach Les Murakami put this weekend's league-opening series at Texas Christian higher on the importance scale than playing then-No. 2 Wichita State last week.
Since 1994, UH is 21-51 (.293) in WAC road games and hasn't qualified for the league tournament or come close to being considered for an NCAA regional berth.
This drought came after UH went to nine regionals from 1980 to 1993. One major component of that success was the Rainbows' ability to hold their own away from Rainbow Stadium with an 81-68-2 (.543) WAC road record.
The top six teams qualify for the 1999 WAC tournament. Hawaii was picked to finish fourth in the preseason coaches poll.
Here's a look at UH's opponents in the order they appear on the Rainbows' schedule with the predicted order of finish in the coaches preseason poll:
Texas Christian (5th): The Horned Frogs (6-7) lost to Oklahoma, 14-12, Tuesday. It was their third consecutive loss. For more about TCU, see Rainbow Playbook, below.
Brigham Young (9th): The Cougars (5-9) play their first 23 games on the road. Right-hander Micah Mangrum (0-1, 9.92), Curtis Rodriguez (1-1, 4.30) and left-hander Jordan Opdahl (1-2, 13.50) are the starting pitchers.
Freshman Michael Davies (.411) is the early batting leader. Senior second baseman Ryan Pond (.364) has seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 14 games. Freshman first baseman David Jensen has 15 RBIs and is touted by head coach Gary Pullins as the best at his position since Wally Joyner played for BYU.
San Jose State (7th): Pitching is the Spartans' (7-5) strength and catcher Mike Wright (.314 in 1998) returns to handle the duty. The starting pitching staff are 6-foot-7 right-hander Jeremy Rogelstad (1-2, 5.55), 6-5 right-hander Joey Baker (1-1, 8.53), 6-3 right-hander Vince LaCorte (2-0, 0.50) and 6-2 right-hander Steve Murphy (1-1, 1.40).
Shortstop Mike Rouse (.316), right fielder Todd Duncan (.300, 13 RBIs), third baseman Junior Ruiz (.300) and outfielder Brandon Macchi (.289, 2 HR, 11 RBIs) lead the offense.
Fresno State (2nd): The Bulldogs (7-8) are looking to rebound after missing the NCAA regionals last season following 10 straight appearances. Their top two starting pitchers are gone, which may contribute to the slow start (2-6).
Second baseman Jeff Prieto and shortstop Jason Fanconi make the Bulldogs strong up the middle. FSU's top returning hitter, Joe Gerber (.337 in '98) and junior college transfers Michael Bowlin and Anthony Acevedo will start in the outfield.
Nevada-Las Vegas (6th): The Rebels (3-9) return 23 players, are deep in the outfield, solid in the infield and have more speed than a year ago. Right-handers Bill Scheffels (5-3) and Andy McCulloch (6-2) head up the rotation with Jimmy Smith (4-3, 8 saves) back as the closer.
Air Force (11th): The Falcons (5-9) have the infield and two of three starting outfielders back, led by Mike Boomsma, the top hitter a year ago (.360).
The big question mark is pitching. The top three starters and the top closer are gone. Chris Jessop (1-3, 6.16) is the lone returning starter.
Rice (1st): The two-time defending WAC champion Owls (13-3) are led by national player of the year Damon Thames. Left-hander Mario Thomas (4-0, 1.73) and right-hander Jeff Nichols (5-0, 3.86) are the top starting pitchers.
Thomas (.453), JC transfers Mitch Ackal (.410) and Brett Smith (.390) and Charlie Williams (.371) have helped Rice average 8.1 runs per game.
Utah (10th): The Utes (9-5) have four solid pitchers in Lance Ericksen, Troy Beckman, Brett McDermaid and Brandon Page. The outfield has three returners led by Sam Swenson. Senior second baseman Ryan Hilts is the only returning infield starter.
San Diego State (3rd): The Aztecs (7-7) lost their entire starting infield, all-WAC outfielder Damien Kolb and their top starter and reliever.
Sophomore Brandon Rogers is solid behind the plate. WAC Freshman of the Year Robert Womack (.390) will be in right and Paul Lockhart (.345) in left.
New Mexico (8th): The Lobos (6-8) return seven position starters but lost their top starting pitcher and top closer. Brian Messer, Eddie Misquez, Joe Abell and Vance Bonner make up the rotation. Marvin Wong (Iolani) is projected as a middle reliever.
Seniors Lon Yamaguchi (Mid-Pacific Institute) at shortstop and Cory Robbins at second anchor the infield. Mark Okano (Aiea) is battling for the centerfield job. Yamaguchi hit 20 homers in '98.
Coaches: TCU, Lance Brown (13th season, 372-339). UH, Les Murakami (29th season, 1,027-524-4).
Texas Christian Horned Frogs
Season: TCU, 6-7. UH, 13-2.
Probable starting pitchers: TCU, RH Scott Atchison (1-2, 4.02), RH Shawn Thompson (2-1, 4.20), RH Chris Frazier (0-1, 7.11). UH, LH Jamie Aloy (3-2, 3.16), LH Randon Ho (4-0, 0.50), LH Troy Yoshimasu (4-0, 3.42).
Top players: Mark Hamilton, a left-handed pitcher with a 1-2 record, also leads the Horned Frogs with a .462 batting average; 1B David Wallace (.341, 16 RBIs); 3B Royce Huffman (.366), team leader in runs (16) and hits (15); and Erick Macha and Eric McLamore, both 4-for-4 in stolen bases.
Interesting facts: Hawaii is opening Western Athletic Conference competition on the road for the third consecutive season ... The 'Bows are playing at the TCU Diamond for the first time ... TCU leads the series, 2-1 ... UH hasn't played in Texas since 1985, when it took 3 out of 4 at Texas-El Paso ... Hawaii is ranked 14th (Collegiate Baseball) and 21st (Baseball America) ... TCU is not ranked ... UH leadoff batter Sean Takamori has 20 hits this season after getting just seven his first two years ... UH third baseman Matt Wheeler is nursing a sprained left ankle, but is expected to make the trip and be ready to play.
Series keys: The Rainbows have to forget Wichita State. That sweep was nice, but this series means much more to the 'Bows ... "This is our second season, and it's the most important season," Murakami said. "We're going to a hitter's park, but I don't see that being a problem. All our kids know their roles and that's a good thing. We won't hit home runs, but we'll get lots of base hits." ... The 'Bows left Tuesday night so they could get two practice sessions in at TCU's field. Murakami felt the first game of each road trip a year ago was a struggle with only one practice day on the mainland. By leaving at night, the players don't miss any more classes than last year.
First pitch: Tomorrow, 10:05 a.m. Hawaii time; Saturday and Sunday, 10:05 a.m. Hawaii time.
On the air: Live on KCCN radio (1420 AM).