With the nonconference season coming to an end this weekend, the Hawaii baseball team has some work to do to get to .500.
The Rainbow Warriors (9-11) need a series win against Alabama-Birmingham to get to either 12-12 or 13-11 overall heading into their Big West opener next week at UC Santa Barbara.
Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso has always established the goal of hitting that mark or better against nonconference schedules that routinely rank among the toughest in the country.
This season, the Rainbow Warriors sit 17th in that category with the Blazers, out of Conference USA, coming to town for four games before conference play.
"We always say that our goals are to play a very difficult nonconference schedule, to be .500 or above, and then finish in the top two or three in this great conference that we’re in now, which should put you in position to where you’re in conversation for postseason," Trapasso said before Wednesday’s practice.
Hawaii has let a few wins slip away, including two last week against Nevada. Two bad half-innings by UH relievers kept the Rainbow Warriors from sweeping the Wolf Pack.
Hawaii has lost twice when leading after eight innings but can make up for it with a series win against UAB.
The Blazers are 16-5 and rank 55th in the country with a 2.92 ERA, including four shutouts.
The three probable starters announced by UAB coach Brian Shoop all own ERAs of 1.65 or less.
"We’ve given some games away and hopefully we can get those back this weekend," junior Jordan Richartz said. "I don’t think our record reflects us as a team or of our ability, but I think we’ve got to get to that .500 spot to show what we’re capable of."
Richartz, hitting .258 with 11 RBIs, started his first game in the outfield on Saturday in weather conditions Trapasso called the worst he’s seen in 13 years.
A swirling wind played games with every fly ball and caused Richartz to make an error on the first ball hit to him. He settled down to make a few nice plays, including a running over-the-shoulder catch.
"That was the most brutal conditions I’ve ever played in," Richartz said. "I was taking DUI routes going everywhere and it was tough, but I got the first error out of the way and then got the job done."
Richartz will have surgery on a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder after the season but is needed in the outfield. Freshman Marcus Doi is out for another week with a groin tear but will likely only DH when he returns, meaning Richartz will have to tough it out in the field.
"They say I can’t tear my (shoulder) any worse than it is, but I really hadn’t thrown the ball in a couple of months," Richartz said. "I didn’t really have any confidence, but I know I can make that throw this week and we’ll see how it goes."
Although it hasn’t translated to many wins yet, Hawaii has scored first in six of its past eight games.
Junior Stephen Ventimilia has hit leadoff in the past three and provided a spark with six hits in 13 at-bats. He scored the only run in Monday’s win on a single, stolen base, wild pitch and groundout, all before the third batter came to the plate.
"I’ve approached every day the same," Ventimilia said after Monday’s win. "I approach every day like I’m going to play and that’s what you’ve got to do, because you never know when your name is going to get called."
Trapasso said Wednesday that Ventimilia’s name will be called for the foreseeable future.
"It just makes sense to play those guys with the hot hand," Trapasso said. "Right now, especially if Stephen can continue to get on base at the top of the order, that really helps when he makes things happen."
Hawaii is 2-0 all-time against UAB, sweeping a midweek series in 2008.