Western Illinois has been well traveled
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Western Illinois' baseball team has been just about everywhere except home entering its sixth week of the season.
The Leathernecks (2-9) open a five-game series against Hawai'i (13-6), which has spent four of the past five weeks in the friendly, but soggy confines of Les Murakami Stadium. The series starts tonight and includes a scheduled doubleheader tomorrow with the first game set for nine innings and the second for seven. This would be UH's third doubleheader in 11 days because of two rainouts during the Rainbow Tournament last week.
Because of renovations at their home park, the Leathernecks will remain playing away until March 26. After here, they travel to the Big Island for a five-game series against UH-Hilo. They then go to Nebraska and then to Michigan State before their home opener March 29 against Illinois College.
The Leathernecks are looking to snap a nine-game losing streak. After winning their first two games of the season at Alabama State, WIU has been swept in three-game series at Oklahoma (No. 23 in Collegiate Baseball), at Oklahoma State and at Kansas (No. 25 Baseball America). A three-game series at Alabama A&M was canceled by poor weather.
Western Illinois hasn't had a winning season since 1989, but has fared well in Mid-Continent Conference play, coming off back-to-back second-place finishes. The Leathernecks were picked to finish second behind perennial favorite Oral Roberts in a poll of conference coaches.
The Leathernecks, who average 4.3 runs per game, are led by two-way senior Ryan Schmidgall, a shortstop/pitcher. He is one of two WIU players with a .300 batting average or better. The other is sophomore first baseman Matt Newquist (.306). But WIU's team batting average is .225.
Western Illinois also has struggled on the mound with an 8.49 team earned run average. In 188 innings, their pitches have combined for 62 strikeouts to 61 walks.
Stan Hyman is in his fifth season as coach at WIU and 13th overall year coaching at the collegiate level. But before coaching, he had been in the entertainment industry, as a press agent for boxer Roberto Duran and a representative for recording artists Al Jarreau and Kim Carnes. He also is a former sports writer and music columnist.
Meanwhile, Hawai'i plans to use its usual three starters for the first three games of the series. Steven Wright (3-1, 2.50) will pitch tonight, Ian Harrington (2-1, 3.90) in tomorrow's first game and Mark Rodrigues (1-1, 4.63) in the second game. Justin Costi (1-0, 8.49) will start one of the remaining two games, UH coach Mike Trapasso said. Costi is coming off his best outing, pitching six innings, giving up a run, five hits and two walks with three strikeouts in a 10-6 win against Washington on March 1. The other starter will be determined by availability after the first three games.
Offensively, UH has a team batting average of .293 and is averaging 6.6 runs per game. Right fielder Matt Inouye (.486) and designated hitter Justin Frash (.404) lead the team in batting average and are third and second, respectively, with 13 and 15 RBIs. Center fielder Robbie Wilder (.328) leads with 23 runs, while first baseman Luis Avila leads the club with 10 extra-base hits (six doubles, one triple, three home runs) and 21 RBIs.
The only history between UH and WIU is in the 2003 Rainbow Tournament. The Rainbows won 9-1 in round robin and then 13-2 for the championship.
The Rainbows begin Western Athletic Conference play after this series when they host Louisiana Tech starting March 17. But they have two nonconference series before resuming WAC play. They will travel to UH-Hilo March 21 and 22 and then host UC Santa Barbara March 26 to 28.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.