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Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, March 2, 2000

R A I N B O W _ B A S E B A L L

It's now time to play conference ball,
chase the league title and a postseason spot.
That means bringing out the
heavy lumber and go ...

By Al Chase


The Western Athletic Conference head baseball coaches voted three-time defending champion Rice and Hawaii as the top two teams in their preseason poll.

Both teams started slow and have overall losing records. Rice dropped out of the polls for the first time this week after losing two of three to Fresno State.

The thinking that the best teams would rise to the top and have solid RPI rankings was one reason the conference decided not hold a postseason tournament this year.

Also, the conference RPI was strong enough last year to insure that the 2000 champion receives an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

However, WAC teams are 42-43 vs. nonconference opponents so far this season. That won't help any teams' RPI rankings, but the 1-17 record against nonconference ranked teams could be more damaging come tournament time.

This definitely means the conference race will be interesting and hotly contested.

Any team not finishing first must focus heavily on ending up in second place. Getting three teams into postseason play is a long, long shot.


Bullet Season record: 0-0 WAC, 8-10 overall
Bullet Last season: 15-14 WAC, 37-20 overall
Bullet Head coach: Les Murakami, 30th year.

Les Murakami takes responsibility for the Rainbows' slow start. He says the first 18 games have allowed him to understand the personnel better, something not always readily evident in intrasquad scrimmages.

"It wasn't their fault early because we were playing so many guys," Murakami said. "This team is coming around. They believe they can win."

The Rainbows have a modest four-game winning streak built on timely hitting, solid defense and adequate pitching.

UH opens a three-game series against Rice beginning Saturday, when it faces Kenny Baugh, the WAC Pitcher of the Week last week.


Bullet Season record: 1-2, 7-9
Bullet Last season 25-5, 59-15
Bullet Head coach: Wayne Graham, 9th year
Bullet vs. Hawaii: March 4, 5, 6 (home), April 22, 23, 24 (at Rice).

Although the Owls have not hit with the authority shown in 1999, their record is misleading. Eight of their 10 defeats have been to ranked teams.

Run production has dropped from 8.1 to 4.6 a game.

The Owls lost to No. 5 Baylor, 5-2, yesterday as the Bears scored four runs in the ninth inning. Rice starter Marc Gywn (1-3, 2.64) took a six-hitter into the ninth.

Baugh (3-0, 0.92) and Jon Skaggs (2-0, 3.66) are the other starters.

The biggest disappointment has been senior right-hander Jeff Nichols, who is 1-4 with a 6.97 ERA after going 15-4 in 1999.

Rice has three position players hitting over .300. Bobby Bryan is at .333, Eric Arnold at .328 and Jason Gray at .317.

Fresno State

Bullet Season record: 2-1, 1-4
Bullet Last season: 14-16, 33-30
Bullet Head coach: Bob Bennett, 32nd year
Bullet vs. Hawaii: March 17, 18, 19 (at Fresno), April 15, 16, 17 (home).

There was a lot of discontent in Fresno after last year's so-so season. Bennett finally signed a new contract that contains clauses regarding the number of games won and making postseason play.

After losing the first two games to Stanford, the Bulldogs reeled off 11 consecutive victories and jumped back into the top 25 rankings for the first time since 1998.

Brandon Germoll (.393), Mike Bowlin (.341), Nick Garcia (.340) and Josh Labandeira (.322) are the top hitters. Labandeira recently had a 12-game hitting streak end.

The starting chores are handled by left-hander Beau Hintz (2-1, 1.80), right-hander Tom Graham (2-1, 3.42) and right-hander Shawn Hannah (2-2, 4.34).

Hans Smith, a 6-foot-9 left-hander is the closer. He is 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA.

San Jose State

Bullet Season record: 2-1, 10-3
Bullet Last season: 16-11, 30-26-1
Bullet Head coach: Sam Piraro, 14th year
Bullet vs. Hawaii: March 24, 25, 26 (home), April 7, 8, 9 (at San Jose).

The Spartans own the WAC's only victory over a ranked team, beating No. 2 Stanford, 4-1, Tuesday.

Potential starting pitchers Jeremy Rogelstad and Andy Cook have yet to play due to injuries.

But Chris Sherman (3-0, 1.93 ERA), Chris Key (3-0, 2.11) and Joey Baker (3-0, 2.29) have been consistent starters on a staff that has compiled a 2.68 ERA.

JC transfer John Fagan has provided power with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

Junior Ruiz, who hurt UH last season, leads SJS in hits (17) and batting average (.362).

The Spartans don't steal often and have thrown out 11 of 20 opponents attempting to swipe a base.

Texas Christian

Bullet Season record: 0-0, 5-12
Bullet Last season: 19-10, 32-26
Bullet Head coach: Lance Brown, 14th year
Bullet vs. Hawaii: March 10, 11, 12 (home), April 27, 28, 29 (at TCU).

The Horned Frogs are hitting .296 but only two pitchers have an ERA under 5.00. TCU's early results mirror UH's for the most part, either win big or lose big.

Right-handed starter Shawn Thompson (1-1, 3.00) walks almost as many as he strikes out.

The other starters are Chris Bradshaw (0-2, 5.55), Chris Frazier (1-2, 5.82) and Mark Hamilton (0-3, 13.50).

However, Hamilton, who also plays first base, has a .364 average and seven multi-hit games. Tom Bates (.434, 16 RBIs) and Levi Groomer (.415, 10 RBIs) are the leading hitters.


Bullet Season record: 1-2, 10-12
Bullet Last season: 9-37 (not in WAC)
Bullet Head coach: Joey Estrella, 24th year
Bullet vs. Hawaii: May 5, 6, (at Hilo), May 7 (at Kona), May 12, 13, 14 (home).

The Vulcans first season in a Division I conference began with a victory in the first game of a six-game California road trip.

Seniors Kaholo Rickard (4-0) and Thomas Ford (3-1) head up a pitching staff that relies on smarts, not power, to get batters out.

Brian Rooke (.344) and Keola Park (.317) are solid at the plate.

Estrella will play the short game, manufacturing runs any way possible.

The Vulcans are hitting .233, but that is an improvement over 1999.



Team W L Pct. W L Pct.
San Jose State 2 1 .667 10 3 .769
Fresno State 2 1 .667 11 4 .733
Hawaii-Hilo 1 2 .333 10 12 .455
Rice 1 2 .333 7 10 .412
Hawaii 0 0 .000 8 10 .444
Texas Christian 0 0 .000 5 12 .294

Tuesday's results

Sam Houston State 10, Rice 9
Dallas Baptist 9, Texas Christian 6
San Jose State 4, Stanford 1
California 12, Fresno State 10 (12 innings)

Yesterday's result

Baylor 5, Rice 2

Today's game

Hawaii-Hilo at Fresno State

Tomorrow's games

Hawaii-Hilo at Fresno State
San Jose State at Texas Christian

Saturday's games

Rice at Hawaii, 12:05 p.m.
Hawaii-Hilo at Fresno State
San Jose State at Texas Christian

Sunday's games

Rice at Hawaii, 3:05 p.m.
San Jose State at Texas Christian

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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