UH bound for regional
|||Reviving Rainbow baseball|
|||NCAA Division I baseball regionals|
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a butcher's knife.
So it was only appropriate the Hawai'i Rainbows learned of their first NCAA Tournament regional selection since 1993 at the Hukilau restaurant in the Japan Town section of this city, where the team is staying after the weekend's Western Athletic Conference tournament in Fresno.
With some players sitting at the edges of their seats and some standing, they all let out a collective cheer and applause after waiting for some 20 minutes before the television screen finally showed the 15th of 16 regional selections with Hawai'i going to Corvallis, Ore., home of the top-seeded and Pac-10 champion Oregon State Beavers.
"When I saw some of the other teams early that were getting in, we had a better RPI (so) I knew we were going to be somewhere in there," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "But you got a half-hour show, there's 16 and you're the 15th regional mentioned, you start raising your eyebrows. But it's a good day for University of Hawai'i baseball."
The third-seeded Rainbows (43-15), runner-up of the WAC, will play Big 12 tournament champion Kansas (42-23), the second seed, which tied for fifth in conference during the regular season. The Beavers (39-14) will open with fourth-seeded Wright State (39-25), which won the Horizon Conference tournament after taking third during the regular season.
The regionals are double-elimination. The winner advances to the Super Regionals. The Corvallis regional is tied to the winner of the Austin, Texas, regional, where the Texas Longhorns are the host and top seed. The Super Regionals are a best-of-three series between two teams. The winners advance to the College World Series.
It has been 13 years since UH's last regional appearance. This is the first under Trapasso, in his fifth year as coach.
It was a special moment for senior outfielder Matt Inouye, who has been with Trapasso the past four seasons. He has seen the highs and lows.
"I honestly can't believe I finally made it," Inouye said. "We finally got to a regional. It was just emotional to see our name pop up on the screen. I'm just glad we got a shot."
Third baseman Justin Frash said the 'Bows are ready. "We can't stop here. We gotta try to win there (at Corvallis) and try to get to Omaha."
Omaha, Neb., is the site of the College World Series, where UH hasn't been since 1980.
The players might have known deep down they were going to get picked, but ESPN had to make it dramatic.
"I was getting nervous," said second baseman Jon Hee.
"It was definitely intense and nerve-wracking," said outfielder Robbie Wilder. "But we all knew eventually our name would come up. It was just a matter of time."
"It was the longest 15, 20 minutes of my life," Inouye said. "At this point of my baseball career, this is the highlight of my life."
It seemed that every cell phone in the restaurant went off during the announcements. Players all snapped up their cell phones, either calling or receiving calls from family and friends.
Before Inouye could call his girlfriend, she called him. Then his mother called. Then an Alaska summer league teammate buzzed in. Inouye said that OSU second baseman Ryan Gibson called to congratulate him.
"I'm happy for our guys," Trapasso said. "These kids worked hard, our coaches worked hard all year. It's a culmination of showing up in August and working hard for a common goal, so we'll spend the next day figuring out our travel plans. It's kind of exciting getting out of region because we thought we'd be in Southern California, so it's kind of fun to be going out of region to a place I've never been.
"We'll try to gear up, practice tomorrow and hope to represent the state of Hawai'i with pride."
Ironically, former Rainbow Erik Ammon, who played catcher and outfield for UH last season as a freshman, plays for OSU. He left UH because he wanted to be closer to his home in Salem.
"It's going to be good to see them," Ammon said. "I got calls from Jon Hee, (Joe) Spiers, Dean Turner, Coach K (Konishi)."
Hawai'i pitcher Steven Wright and coach Mike Trapasso have been named to the College Baseball Foundation's All-America team.
Wright, who is 11-2 with a 2.30 ERA, was one of seven pitchers selected to the team.
Trapasso, who has guided the 'Bows to a 43-15 record, joins Rice's Wayne Graham, Virginia's Brian O'Conner and Kentucky's John Cohen as national Coaches of the Year.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.