MESA, Ariz. »The Hawaii Rainbows practiced Tuesday on the field behind the hitters eye of the main stadium at Hohokam Park.
Even though it wasn’t the stadium itself, it was a welcome sight for a group hungry to duplicate last year’s feat.
The Rainbows will begin defense of their 2010 Western Athletic Conference tournament championship Thursday against the lowest seed that wins today’s opening two games.
Hawaii (32-23) won the first WAC tournament held at Hohokam Stadium, the minor league home for the National League’s Chicago Cubs.
UH did it in record fashion, hitting .379 and scoring 46 runs in five games.
Five of UH’s nine starters hit over .400, including Collin Bennett, who set tourney records with 13 hits and seven doubles.
In their last game in Mesa, senior Jeff Van Doornum hit a home run that cleared the hitters eye that sits 410 feet away from home plate. The home run traveled an estimated 472 feet, landing just in front of the field where UH practiced Tuesday.
"Pulling up on the bus, it definitely brought back a lot of memories from last year," said Van Doornum, who was named to the All-WAC second team Tuesday. "Everything’s happened so fast in the last year that we’re back and it’s always nice to be able to play in this Arizona heat."
Van Doornum, and the Rainbows as a whole, seem to be peaking offensively as they begin postseason play.
In his past eight games, Van Doornum is hitting .455 (15-for-33) with two homers and 15 RBIs. After he was hit on the hand with a pitch that almost ended his career, Van Doornum has instead found the form that has made him one of the five best home run hitters in UH history.
"As funny as it sounds, the key has been Van Doornum getting hit on the hand because what that did for him is he’s controlling his swing more and has swung the bat really well since he has come back from that," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said.
"We almost hope his hand stays a little sore."
Hawaii has also been boosted by the play of Bennett, who hit .417 (25-for-60) in league play and leadoff hitter Breland Almadova, whose 30 runs and 11 stolen bases were the best in the WAC.
If there’s one thing the Rainbows need the most, it’s a big game out of junior Matt Sisto, who has been the team’s No. 1 starter all season.
After pitching at least six innings in eight of his first nine starts, Sisto has lasted into the fourth just once in his past five outings, giving up 20 earned runs in 16 1⁄3 innings.
"We need to pitch better than we have the last couple of weeks," Trapasso said. "Sisto needs to get off to a good start for us and if he does that, that’ll be a shot in the arm for us because the last couple of weeks, our offense has really picked up, so if the pitching can get back to where it was, then we’re for the first time all year really doing well in all phases."
Hawaii will open tournament play Thursday against either Nevada, San Jose State or New Mexico State.