Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso has built a reputation of putting together some of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country.
This year could be the hardest one yet.
The UH baseball team kicks off the 2011 season tonight with the first of back-to-back series against top-10 teams, the Rainbows welcoming No. 9 Oregon to Les Murakami Stadium for the opener of a four-game set.
» Who: No. 9 Oregon (0-0) at Hawaii (0-0)
» When: Today and tomorrow, and Monday, 6:35 p.m.; Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
» Where: Les Murakami Stadium
» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Fifteen of the Rainbows’ 31 nonconference games are against teams ranked in the top 20 of at least one major poll, including No. 7 Texas next week.
"Getting a chance to play all of these great teams is one of the reasons I came to Hawaii," junior Collin Bennett said at the beginning of spring practice.
The defending Western Athletic Conference champion ‘Bows return an experienced crew, but could have four new faces in the starting lineup against the Ducks.
"You can’t really prepare the new guys for what the atmosphere is going to be like here," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "They just have to experience that on their own and that’s one of the fun things about opening up a season is seeing how they react under scoreboard pressure."
The Ducks open their third season under head coach George Horton, who was hired away from Cal State Fullerton to start a new baseball program in Eugene.
Oregon dropped baseball in 1982 and went 27 years without a fielding a team until 2009. In just his second year, Horton led his team to a 40-win season and berth in the NCAA tournament. This season, the Ducks are ranked in the top 15 in five preseason polls, including as high as No. 9 by Collegiate Baseball.
"Potentially, we have a little more sock in the lineup and might be a better team offensively than last year, but it certainly hasn’t shown up yet," Horton said. "That might be because our pitchers are very good, but that’s part of the mystery to me."
The Ducks boast one of the top pitching prospects in the country, junior left-hander Tyler Anderson, who was 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA last season and is rated the 16th-best prospect in the class of 2011 by Baseball America. He’s been named to four collegiate baseball publications’ preseason All-America teams and will start opposite Hawaii right-hander Matt Sisto tonight.
UH handed Anderson one of his five losses last year, taking advantage of two first-inning errors to score four runs in five innings. Anderson ended up striking out eight, but walked six.
"When he came in here (last year), he nibbled, nibbled, nibbled, which is kind of uncharacteristic of him," Horton said. "We feel as good as any time in my career when we hand the ball to a Friday guy that his name happens to be Tyler Anderson.
"Every single game he gives you a chance to win."
The Ducks will be without shortstop KC Serna, who has been suspended for the series. Serna hit .348 with 45 runs scored and 14 stolen bases as the team’s leadoff batter last year.
That’s good news for Sisto, who ended the season with a seven-inning masterpiece in a win over top-20 ranked San Diego in the NCAA tournament.
He didn’t allow an earned run in six innings against the Ducks as a sophomore, when he saved his best performances for the best teams. Three of his five wins a year ago came against Oregon, Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State.
"We’re looking to get out of Sisto what he gave us down the stretch last year," Trapasso said. "He’s got the ability to be a big-game guy for us."
Junior Connor Little, senior Alex Capaul and junior Jesse Moore are expected to start the remaining three games of the series for the Rainbows, who are 29-11 all-time in season openers, including 6-3 under Trapasso.
Note: An autograph session will be held on the field after tonight’s game.