With shortstop Jesse Moore likely out against Valparaiso, the left side of Hawaii’s infield once again is up in the air.
The Rainbows have rotated sophomore Kalani Brackenridge and junior AJ Bayus at third with Pi‘ikea Kitamura moving to short while Moore has dealt with a nagging shoulder injury.
As Hawaii (21-15, 7-1 Western Athletic Conference) prepares for its final nonconference series of the season, a new face, one very familiar to Rainbow fans, might wind up entering the infield mix.
Junior Collin Bennett took some ground balls at third in pregame during the Louisiana Tech series and continued that yesterday as Hawaii readied itself for a three-game set against the Crusaders (15-21) starting tonight.
The next three games give Hawaii, which has won nine of 10, one last chance to tinker with its lineup before the stretch run to the WAC tournament begins with a showdown at No. 12 Fresno State next week.
Bennett, who played a key role for last year’s team that advanced to a regional final in Arizona, has struggled to crack the outfield rotation since losing his spot early in the year.
He hit .323 with a team-leading 49 RBIs as a sophomore, showing the potential to be a legit presence in a lineup that has been up-and-down offensively all season.
“We’re just kicking around ideas of what’s the best way to have our best offensive guys in the lineup at the same time,” Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. “Really, what that means is, how do we get Collin Bennett in the lineup with (Jeff) Van Doornum, with (Sean) Montplaisir, with (Zack) Swasey in there and the only spot right now that we’re still kind of rotating guys in is at third base.”
Among Hawaii’s starting position players, outfielders Montplaisir, Swasey, Breland Almadova and Van Doornum make up four of Hawaii’s five best hitters based on average.
Since going 2-for-21 on a road trip to LMU and Long Beach State, Bennett has been unable to play his way back into the lineup as the others have continued to produce.
“It was my spot to lose and I wasn’t performing where other guys were, so it’s hard to be mad about staying on the bench,” Bennett said. “Right around the Wichita State series I had an epiphany about what I was doing wrong and part of it has been learning to do more than just swing in the cage but study film and break down my swing and actually figuring out what I’ve needed to change.”
Bennett started in place of Montplaisir against two left-handers in the final two games of the LaTech series and went 2-for-6 with two walks. Since Wichita State came to town, he’s 5-for-15 with two RBIs.
With Brackenridge and Bayus both hitting under .200, an opportunity to step in at third is one Bennett welcomes, even if it’s a position he hasn’t played since the eighth grade.
“If that’s what it takes to be in the lineup every single day, I’m 100 percent fine with it,” Bennett said. “I feel like I’m a good enough athlete to take on the challenge and I could make myself look stupid, but even if I make an error out there, I’ve got nothing to lose.
“If that’s what it takes and that’s what coach wants me to do, I’m going to do it.”