Rainbows take on resurgent Oregon
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
In the second week of its second season since reviving the sport, Oregon arrives here nationally ranked for a four-game series against Hawai'i (1-3) starting tonight.
The Ducks (3-1) — the second nationally ranked team from Oregon from the Pac-10 to visit Les Murakami Stadium in as many weekends — were ranked 25th by Collegiate Baseball on Monday. Two of their wins were against perennial powers No. 6 Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.
"We're off, I guess by some standards, to a surprising start," Oregon coach George Horton said.
Not that surprising to UH coach Mike Trapasso.
Perhaps inspired by rival Oregon State's College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007, Oregon fueled its revival with Nike money and by bringing a proven coach in Horton, who had guided Cal State Fullerton to the CWS title in 2004 (with Maui's Kurt Suzuki at catcher).
"It's a great school with resources and they go out and get maybe the best coach in college baseball," Trapasso said. "It's no surprise at all they're ranked in the top 25 in their second year. They'll be a great challenge and great opportunity for us."
Although he inherited a strong program at CSUF from now Texas coach Augie Garrido, Horton said he wanted to blaze his own trail at Oregon.
"This would become more of George Horton's legacy," Horton said of decision to leave the established Titans' program. "If I can get this program to that level, then it will be a very rewarding experience."
Horton added he was supposed to play baseball at UH in 1974 and remembered players like Richard Maltby and Joey Estrella. But, he said with a smile, that he spent more time at the beach and never played.
As a senior at Newport High in Bellevue, Wash., Collin Bennett considered Washington State for baseball.
But a late-season collision with teammate and childhood buddy Blake Gibbs, now of Oregon State, as they converged on a ball hit in the left-center gap changed things. Left fielder Gibbs suffered a knee injury and center fielder Bennett spent five days in the hospital with injuries to his kidney and spleen.
Bennett isn't sure if the injury affected his entrance into WSU, but he ended up at Tacoma JC his freshman season. He was spotted by Trapasso and already being academically qualified, he was able to transfer to UH this season.
"It was kind of a blessing in disguise," Bennett said. "I didn't expect to go to a junior college out of high school. I was kind of unsure about it. I always wanted to go to a Division I school and play right out of high school. One year at JC and coming here, I think it was the best thing that could've happened to me."
He and Kolten Wong share the team lead among starters in hitting at .333.
Another blessing was that Bennett got to see Gibbs again when OSU came in over the weekend. They had played sports together since second grade.
"He's one of my better friends," Bennett said. "It was cool to play against him."