Call it "the Champion effect."
Ever since junior Garrett Champion made his season debut, the Hawaii baseball team is on a roll, winning its series against Centenary, Wichita State and Sacramento State.
Including a victory in the series finale against Portland, the Rainbows are 12-5 since an eighth-inning meltdown against the Pilots turned a five-run lead into a 10-7 loss, dropping UH a season-low three games under .500.
» Who: Louisiana Tech (17-14, 2-2 Western Athletic Conference) at Hawaii (18-14, 4-0)
» Probable starters:
It was the pinnacle of a season-opening struggle defensively for a Rainbows team that consistently ranks near the top of the WAC in fielding percentage.
Now that Champion has established himself behind the plate, and junior Jesse Moore is getting healthy at shortstop, the mood is different in the home dugout.
The Rainbows (18-14) have won six in a row, including a four-game sweep against the Hornets to start Western Athletic Conference play 4-0 for the first time since 1992.
The team has developed a quiet confidence as it looks to improve on a two-game lead in league play against Louisiana Tech (17-14, 2-2) beginning tomorrow night at Les Murakami Stadium.
"We decided those games are games we can’t give away, especially coming into the WAC," junior Kolten Wong said. "I think once we won a couple of games after that, we got it in our minds not to worry as much and to just go out and play and have fun and let things take care of themselves."
Hawaii has done exactly that and is looking to take advantage of early league home games to build a nice cushion before heading out on the road. After the LaTech series, UH will play 12 of its final 16 WAC games on the mainland before the conference tournament in Mesa, Ariz., begins in late May.
"We hope we can play well the next couple of weeks because we’ll be living out of our suitcases the rest of the season," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said.
LaTech’s past two trips to Hawaii are painful memories for the players who were here in 2009. The Bulldogs swept Hawaii, which was 10 games over .500 at the time and flirting with a national ranking. A month later, the Bulldogs beat the Rainbows on the opening day of the WAC tournament in Hawaii on a walk-off home run.
"Bad memories, man. They came here and swept us and then they hit a walk-off home run that kind of sent us home from there … and we just want to pay them back," Wong said.
"We were having a really good season my first year and then came back home from New Mexico and just the intensity wasn’t there (against LaTech)," added Matt Sisto (2-4, 2.33 ERA), who will start tomorrow’s opener. "But as long as we continue what we’re doing the last couple of weeks, we’ll be all right."
The Rainbows have cut down their errors and continued to pitch well, holding teams to a WAC-low .232 batting average. Hawaii has held opponents to four runs or fewer in 14 of its past 16 games and is seventh in the country in giving up just 2.31 walks per nine innings.
"We knew coming into this year, we’d have pitching depth, but I don’t think at any point we thought this was what you would ever call a dominant staff," Trapasso said. "It’s a staff that throws strikes and forces contact and we’re about just trying to stay in games and hold teams in check and be able to bring in different guys that can throw strikes and I think we’ve seen that."
Trapasso said that Zach Gallagher will start Monday’s finale. He’s also switched Jarrett Arakawa and Connor Little in the pitching rotation, allowing Arakawa to pitch at night on Saturday and Little to pitch Sunday’s day game.
Torigoe no longer on team
First baseman Easton Torigoe is no longer with the team, Trapasso confirmed yesterday. Torigoe, a Mid-Pacific graduate, appeared in 23 games in his career, including six this season. The 5-foot-10 junior batted .139 (6-for-35) and hit a grand slam last year against Air Force. Torigoe last appeared in a game March 18 as a pinch hitter against Centenary College.