By Ferd Lewis
The University of Hawai'i baseball team gets another look at Rice beginning tomorrow in Houston, a three-game glimpse that will likely reaffirm what a lot of us have already begun to suspect:
That the Owls are one of the best teams the Rainbows have played ever.
That's no small feat considering that in their 33 years of an all-college schedule, the Rainbows have played 10 teams that were national championship-bound the season they met.
Even at a remarkable 29-1 with a 26-game winning streak and a consensus hold on No. 1 in the polls, there is no guarantee the Owls will win it all in Omaha, site of the College World Series. But for the first time in a long time, here is a team that measures up with the best UH has seen the Southern Californinas, Arizona States, Stanfords, Wichita States, etc.
"Frankly, they are the best college team I've seen in 10 or 11 years," said UH coach Mike Trapasso. "They have no weaknesses none that we saw, anyway."
"They (the Owls) are up there," said retired coach Les Murakami, who took in part of the UH-Rice series last month at the stadium named in his honor. "They'd do pretty good against those guys; they got pitching, they hit the ball and they play defense."
Any honor roll of UH opponents would have to include these teams:
USC, 1973: Baseball America ranked this edition of the Trojans No. 2 on a list of all-time teams. Led by Fred Lynn, who hit 35 home runs in the final year of wooden bats, USC went 51-11 and took both games from UH on the way to winning the fourth of a record five consecutive national titles.
Arizona State, 1977: Two mainstays of this 57-12 national championship team, Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks, were among the top three players taken in the 1978 draft that claimed nine ASU players. UH split the four games with the Sun Devils.
Wichita State, 1989: The Shockers split two games with UH on the way to a 68-16 record while becoming the first non-sun belt team in 23 years to win the College World Series.
Arizona State, 1984: Barry Bonds and Oddibe McDowell were among five future major leaguers on this 55-20 team that got to the national semifinals and split four games with UH.
Stanford, 1988: Mike Mussina was the ace of this 46-23 national championship team that lost two of three to the Rainbows.
Mississippi State, 1985: Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen helped the Bulldogs get a split.
Where Rice will rate among them remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure this weekend: The Rainbows will have their hands full.