Rainbows advance to WAC title game
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
FRESNO, Calif. —Strong pitching enabled Hawai'i to sweep its way into today's Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship by eliminating Louisiana Tech, 8-2, and Nevada, 11-3, yesterday at Beiden Field.
The No. 24-ranked Rainbows (43-14) will play No. 21 Fresno State (42-16) for the title and automatic regional berth at 9 a.m., Hawai'i time, in a battle of the top two seeds. Second-seeded UH, coming out of the losers' bracket, must win the first game to force a playoff, which would start about 40 minutes afterwards.
By sweeping to reach the final, the Rainbows dramatically improved their chances of landing a regional berth for the first time since 1993.
"It was a situation I felt coming into this game, if we won this game and it was us and Fresno in the championship, that assured us of getting a bid," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "I don't like saying that it's a lock, but I really felt that as long as Fresno or Hawai'i wins the tournament, we're both in. I told the guys before the Nevada game that if we win, we're in."
The Rainbows will travel to San Jose after the conclusion of the tournament and will watch the NCAA selection show set for 6:30 a.m., Hawai'i time, tomorrow on ESPN.
The Nevada win was only possible by beating LaTech earlier. The Rainbows won both behind left-handers Ian Harrington (against LaTech) and Mark Rodrigues (against Nevada).
Rodrigues, who sat out the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, pitched on guts and later fumes, giving the bullpen needed rest for today with seven innings. It was his longest stint of the season since going six a little more than two months ago against UH-Hilo, the last time he won a decision.
"I was ecstatic when he got us five," Trapasso said. "He was done after five. After that we went changeup. We tried to have him spot up and get some pop-ups in the sixth and seventh. He was toast then. But he gutted it out ... It was a huge outing for him."
Rodrigues (4-2) scattered six hits and two walks in allowing two runs. He struck out a season-high six batters.
"It was good to finally go out for more than two innings," said Rodrigues, who had gone two innings in two of his three previous starts. In the other start, he went 3 1/3.
"I got tired in the sixth inning, but we needed a win today to get to the championship game," Rodrigues said. "I had to give it my all."
He said he was able to spot his fastball and have command on his changeup.
With the bullpen depleted the previous night when Justin Costi lasted only 2 2/3 innings, the only fresh arm left was of closer Darrell Fisherbaugh, who is normally used in save situations. Although he didn't get credit for a save statistically, he did save the bullpen by pitching two scoreless innings, allowing only a walk.
The offense chipped in big time, scoring in five of the first six innings. Justin Frash, who had three RBIs in the LaTech game, drilled his third home run of the season, a two-run blast to right-center in the first inning off Nevada starter Matt Renfree (2-3).
But the surprise of the night was Derek DuPree's grand slam — the first home run for the third-year sophomore outfielder — after Renfree walked three consecutive batters with two outs in the second inning. DuPree's drive cleared the right-center field fence with ease.
"I've been waiting for a home run for a while," DuPree said. "I wasn't sure (it was going over). The right fielder was just standing there, looking up."
The Rainbows had 10 hits, and capitalized on 11 walks. It was a turnabout from Friday's 10-3 loss to Nevada when UH pitching issued a season-high 10 walks.
Today is another issue. Having used his four starting pitchers, Trapasso will call on reliever Tyler Davis, who has pitched 1 2/3 innings of relief the first two games. Davis' longest stint was six innings at Fresno on April 8. He allowed only one run and three hits with six strikeouts in a 6-1 loss of a game started by Costi. So Davis appears to be a good match for the Bulldogs.
"They're much more fresh than we are and we're going to be throwing bullpen guys who've been throwing for a couple days," Trapasso said. "Fortunately, Tyler Davis didn't have to throw today."
While a regional berth looks promising, a WAC tournament championship is first on the agenda. The Bulldogs took 2 of 3 from the Rainbows at Beiden Field in the regular season.
"We owe Fresno a couple wins," Frash said. "They're a tough team, but we have to come out and battle. Our pitching has been doing it all year, so I like our chances."
With two convincing wins yesterday, the Rainbows feel confident.
"We have a lot of momentum," DuPree said.
HAWAI'I 8, LA TECH 2
Left-hander Ian Harrington turned in a money performance with a complete game for the Rainbows, who needed it given they played a second game yesterday.
"It was what we needed," coach Mike Trapasso said. "For him to go nine and not labor doing it, keeping a low pitch count, was huge."
Harrington (8-3) used just 106 pitches to eliminate Louisiana Tech (33-25).
Harrington gave up two runs and scattered nine hits, a walk and hit batsman while striking out five.
When the Louisiana Tech finally scored in the seventh, it ended 20 consecutive scoreless innings of Hawai'i pitching against the Bulldogs.
Harrington's second complete game of the season also was his fourth consecutive winning decision.
"I try not to think about that a whole lot," Harrington said of having to win to avoid elimination. "People consider us a shoo-in for a regional, but we're not thinking that way. We're thinking, 'Keep winning.'
"Leave 'em no choice but to give us the opportunity (for a regional)."
Harrington was supported by great defense.
In the sixth, the Bulldogs had runners at first and second with two outs, when Matt Lacy hit a grounder to the right hole, where second baseman Jon Hee made a diving stop and threw out Lacy to end the inning.
"My defense made some big plays behind me," Harrington said.
The Rainbows also executed well against LaTech starter Jericho Jones, the WAC Freshman of the Year, by tagging him for five runs (four earned) in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out seven.
In the top of the first, Robbie Wilder singled, took second on Derek DuPree's sacrifice, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Justin Frash grounded out to second to make it 1-0.
The Rainbows added two in the third, the first coming when DuPree chopped a single against a drawn-in infield with runners at second and third to score Kris Sanchez, who led off the inning with a walk.
Hee took third on the hit and scored on Frash's sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-0.
Hawai'i got an unearned run in the fourth. With two outs, Eli Christensen doubled to right and scored when Sanchez reached on shortstop Lacy's two-base throwing error.
The Rainbows made it 5-0 in the seventh on Frash's third RBI of the game — a two-out single that scored Hee from second — and finished the scoring with three unearned runs in the ninth.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.