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UH season ended with memories of heyday

Billy Hull
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Kolten Wong's walk-off homer helped earn the Rainbows their first WAC tournament title.

Louisiana Tech coach Wade Simoneaux walked up to pitcher Will Alvis and had only one thing to say.

"Don’t give Kolten (Wong) anything to hit," Simoneaux said he told his pitcher.

Had Alvis taken those words to heart, things could be much different for the Hawaii baseball program.

Two strikes were all that separated the Rainbows from seeing their season end at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., a little over two weeks ago.

Was it possible for Hawaii to come all the way back in the losers bracket to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament? Sure. All UH would have had to do is win six straight games in the next four days.

Fortunately, the Rainbows never had to worry about that, as Wong delivered his second two-run homer of the game. It gave UH an 8-7 win over the Bulldogs in extra innings and began an improbable two-week run that ended in a regional final against No. 1 Arizona State.

The walk-off homer was Hawaii’s third win in its final at-bat in less than a month. It catapulted the Rainbows to their first Western Athletic Conference tournament title in 18 years and second postseason berth since 1993.

It also saved head coach Mike Trapasso’s job. Trapasso agreed to terms on a new contract last week, accepting an offer from UH athletic director Jim Donovan that wasn’t going to come had the Rainbows come up short in Arizona.

Throughout the 54-game regular season, the Rainbows didn’t always put things together. There was no questioning the talent on the team, evidenced by four juniors getting picked in this week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. It was just a matter of playing consistent baseball over an extended period of time.

At times, UH displayed the potential, winning three games against an Oregon team that was nationally ranked for part of the season. Hawaii went 3-2 on a tough road trip that featured games at Cal State Fullerton, San Diego and Long Beach State.

But then came a lackadaisical series vs. Gonzaga. UH still won two of three in the series, but entered WAC play in a funk.

The low point came at Sacramento State, losing three of four against a Hornets team that wound up not qualifying for the WAC tournament. UH worked hard to avoid being the odd team out, waiting until the second-to-last day of the regular season to officially clinch its berth.

When Hawaii got to Arizona, it was impossible to predict which Rainbows team would show up in the double-elimination tournament. The team that took the field at Hohokam Stadium wound up being the one that played to its potential.

The Rainbows finished 6-3 in Arizona, playing their final seven games against ranked teams.

UH beat four-time defending tournament champion Fresno State twice to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament. Once there, UH beat a San Diego team ranked as high as 15th in one poll twice.

Just how good was UH playing to finish the year? Left-handers had been trouble for Hawaii all season and the Toreros had one of the best in Sammy Solis, who was taken this week with the 51st overall pick in the draft by the Washington Nationals.

He had a 9-2 record with a 3.00 ERA and was poised to end UH’s season under temperatures that reached 108 degrees.

By the time he departed in the sixth inning, UH had torched him for 10 hits and six runs. UH staved off elimination with a resounding 12-9 win, forcing a second game against the Sun Devils. Unlike the first meeting, UH gave ASU a game, even leading 4-3 at one point halfway through.

"It’s why we’re in this business," Trapasso said after the game. "To see these kids put it together at the right time and to finally get it."

They got it all right, playing through one of the best two-week stretches that gave longtime fans a reminder of what UH baseball was like back in its heyday.

Trapasso has a lot of work to do to get his program back to the national stage. Juniors Greg Garcia, Josh Slaats, David Freitas and Sam Spangler are all leaving in addition to the seven seniors, and next year’s nonconference schedule could be UH’s toughest one yet.

"Once that last out is made, you’re already looking ahead to the future," Trapasso said moments after Arizona State’s 8-4 win ended UH’s season.

Thanks to one Wong swing, that future is still in Hawaii.


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