Hawai'i-Hilo baseball will join new conference in 2004
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
After being spurned by the Western Athletic Conference last season, the Hawai'i-Hilo baseball program has found a new home in the newly formed United States Baseball Conference.
The Vulcans, who have played as an independent last year after competing in the WAC as an affiliate member in 2000 and 2001, will join the new conference, which will begin play in the 2004 season. The conference will be made up of six programs that were independents. Joining the Vulcans are Indiana-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Morris Brown, New York Tech, Pace and Texas-Pan American.
"It's kind of exciting," Vulcans coach Joey Estrella said. "It's a good opportunity for our players to get some conference recognition."
Two other schools with hopes of moving up to Division I Northern Colorado and North Dakota State are considering membership, according to Baseball America Online.
Estrella said because the membership is so spread out across the country, it is not likely every team will play each other. He said the conference schedule will be at the latter part of the season, making it easier for the Vulcans to travel because the semester will likely be done by that time.
Because the Vulcans still need to fill out their schedule with non-conference games, their season might have some open weekends. Estrella said visiting teams like to come to Hawai'i in mid-January or early February to get in some games because of Hawai'i's favorable climate.
The conference also wants to play a postseason tournament. It is hoping the champion can get an NCAA tournament berth.
Meanwhile, the Vulcans will compete in 2002 as an independent. They will open the season Jan. 16 with a six-game series against Arizona State. Again, UH-Hilo's season will end at the end of April because of its front-loaded schedule. It will end the season with a West Coast road trip with games at Washington, Pacific and Sacramento State.