WAC will put 'Bows to the test
The University of Hawai'i-Manoa baseball team is off to its hottest start in 14 seasons, which means ...
Well, actually, it means a lot of things, one of which is the Rainbows' coaching staff hasn't had to jan-ken-po on where it will hold its weekly Friday lunch meetings.
"When we're going good we tend to keep going back to the same place (in this case California Pizza Kitchen) every Friday," said Mike Trapasso, the head coach. And, at 18-6, the 'Bows have been going darn good.
It is among the few superstitions Trapasso admits to. Another is not peeking too far ahead. Or, at least not owning up to it.
A good thing, too, because even with the best start by a UH team since 1992 (when the 'Bows started 19-5 on the way to 49-14 and the NCAA West Regional finals), the real test — the Western Athletic Conference — is at hand.
Gone is weekend punching bag Western Illinois. With Friday's WAC opener against Louisiana Tech at Les Murakami Stadium, the 'Bows enter the thick of their schedule. It is the telltale portion of their season that will determine whether they achieve the breakthrough of a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.
To get there, the 'Bows may need to win 20 of their 32 remaining games to earn an at-large bid in the event they don't win the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA berth that goes with it.
It is a battle that will increasingly cast the 'Bows in their road uniforms. With but 15 of the remaining 32 regular-season games at home and the final eight, plus the conference tournament, all on the continent, the schedule is back-loaded with challenges.
While UH's success in its only away venture to date, a three-game sweep at Loyola Marymount, suggests the 'Bows need not fear the road, history tells us they also best secure a little insurance for it. Which means getting off to a good start to balance out any turbulence they might encounter later.
Baseball has been hit hardest by the conference membership changes of the past year. New Mexico State and Sacramento State have joined the conference while perennial top 20 fixture Rice has departed.
The result is not only a drop in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index used to help select at-large entrants to the tournament, but an unbalanced conference schedule. This year, for example, UH will go to league favorite Fresno State twice — for a three-game April series and the conference tournament in May — but there will be no Bulldog return to Honolulu. Nor will Nevada, which was picked to finish in a second-place tie with UH, come to Murakami Stadium.
All of which figures to give the UH coaches something more than pizza to chew on Friday, if they want to keep their lunch custom intact.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.