Tuesday, January 16, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Vulcans have 'a chance to be decent'

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

It will be a season of uncertainty — on and off the field — for the Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans baseball team.

The Vulcans open Thursday night against the Arizona Wildcats of the Pac-10. It’s also the Wildcats’ season opener.

Thursday’s game is at 6 p.m. and Friday’s doubleheader starts at 4 p.m. All three games are at Hilo’s Wong Stadium. Sunday’s single game is at 1 p.m. in Kailua-Kona.

Off the playing diamond, the Vulcans’ future as a Division I program is uncertain. They will not be retained as an affiliate member of the Western Athletic Conference after this season. Coach Joey Estrella, who is entering his 25th season, said he probably will know before the end of the season if the program will remain Division I or change to Division II. New athletic director Kathleen McNally starts work today and is expected to help determine the future of baseball at the school.

On the field, the Vulcans are uncertain about how they will fill voids left at key positions and the starting rotation.

Gone are pitchers Thomas Ford, Kaholo Rickard and Luke Holscher. They combined for 42 starts for last season’s team that went 17-34. Ford, who graduated in May, signed with the Baltimore Orioles as an undrafted free agent and Rickard has completed his eligibility. Holscher, who would have been a sophomore, elected not to return.

Also lost are shortstop Brandon Chaves and catcher Dana McCracken. Chaves, who would have been a redshirt junior, was drafted and signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and McCracken has completed his eligibility.

"Optimistically, we have a chance to be decent," said Estrella.

The bright spot is the return of senior center fielder Brian Rooke, the WAC leader in stolen bases with 23. He also was the team’s batting leader at .285.

Also back are second baseman Mike Hobbs (.278) and right fielder Ryan Petersen (.277), the team leader in runs (28). They had the second and third highest batting averages, respectively, after Rooke.

Succeeding Chaves at shortstop is Justin Kaneshiro, a backup last season. Todd Jinbo is the new catcher.

Estrella said the Vulcans have more pitching depth than last year, but the starting rotation lacks experience. Right-hander Ben Siff (3-6, 6.02 earned run average) made three starts last season. Other pitchers are junior college transfers Anthony Bernal, Zebb Watts and Clay Daugherty, and returnee Robert Shimabuku. All are right-handers.

"Starting pitching is a real question mark," Estrella said.

Warm-up tosses: The Vulcans are coming off a 12-4 win against the Alumni on Saturday. Three former UH-Hilo players now in the pros played for the Alumni: Pitchers Thomas Ford (Baltimore) and Tyler Yates (Oakland), and shortstop Brandon Chaves (Pittsburgh).

In a poll of Pac-10 coaches, Arizona (26-30 in 2000) was picked to finish fourth in its conference. The Wildcats lost two All-Americans in pitcher/designated hitter Ben Diggins and shortstop Keoni DeRenne to the amateur draft. DeRenne prepped at Iolani and was The Advertiser’s 1997 Player of the Year. He is in the Atlanta Braves farm system.

But back for the Wildcats is preseason All-American outfielder Shelley Duncan, who batted .338 and tied for the team lead with 11 home runs last season in 32 of the team’s 56 games.

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