UH in pivotal series at San Jose
BY Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
With one eye on next week's Western Athletic Conference tournament and the other on making sure it qualifies for it, Hawai'i begins a four-game series at San Jose State today.
The fifth-place Rainbows (26-24 overall, 9-11 WAC) need two wins, or one win and a loss by last-place Sacramento State (6-14) at first-place Fresno State (13-7), to be among the top six teams that qualify for the conference's tournament, which starts Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz.
The sixth-place Spartans (8-12) have just as much incentive to be at their best, as they are just two games in front of the Hornets.
Several factors favor UH, which could finish as high as fourth.
• Defending champion Fresno State can clinch the top spot with three wins against the Hornets.
• Nevada (11-8-1), which closes its regular season by hosting Louisiana Tech (10-10), is within striking range of first or second.
With UH being in such a favorable position, Josh Slaats (4-3, 3.36 ERA) is starting today against the Spartans, 3 p.m., Hawai'i time, at Municipal Stadium. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN 1420 AM following the UH softball team's regional against UC Davis from Stanford, Calif.
Slaats started Tuesday's non-conference game at Stanford, pitching two scoreless innings with a no-decision in a 5-1 loss.
With the tournament opening Wednesday — only the top two teams draw byes and start Thursday — there are only four days rest for each succeeding starter from today.
"He's been in that role (as the No. 1 starter)," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "But really it's more a situation of how things are set up next week for the tournament. Whoever starts on Friday has to come back on Wednesday. It's a little bit short rest. It's normal rest for pro ball and summer ball, but it's a little short rest for a college pitcher who is used to pitching with six and seven days rest."
In tomorrow's doubleheader, the Rainbows will stay with Sam Spangler (3-6, 4.55) in the opener and Matt Sisto (4-4, 5.87) in the seven-inning nightcap.
Trapasso is undecided for Sunday's series finale. If the Rainbows have already clinched a spot in the tournament, he is leaning toward staffing the game to ensure his pitchers are fresh for the tournament opener.
"Obviously, this an important weekend because it's conference and it's a very good opponent, but the reality is we have to focus on setting things up for the tournament," Trapasso said.
While the Rainbows are coming off winning their first WAC series by taking 3 of 4 from New Mexico State, the Spartans are coming off a series split against Fresno State. Hawai'i lost 3 of 4 to Fresno State to start the WAC season.
The Spartans will open the series with right-hander Blake McFarland (6-3, 3.95) today and right-hander Sean Martin (1-3, 5.70) in tomorrow's second game. They have not listed starting pitchers for tomorrow's opener and Sunday.
McFarland is tied for third in the WAC with 62 strikeouts (in 84 1/3 innings) with Slaats (in 59 innings).
Expected to be back in the lineup for UH are first baseman Kevin Macdonald and DH/outfielder Jeffrey Van Doornum. Macdonald (ankle) and Van Doornum (shoulder) were rested against Stanford to keep them fresh for this series.
The Spartans are similar to the Rainbows on defense. They share the WAC lead in fielding percentage at .973. But UH has gunned down a league-high 43 percent of would-be base stealers.
Hawai'i leads the WAC in earned run average at 4.99, while San Jose State is fourth at 6.33.
On offense, UH and SJSU are the two lowest in scoring runs. The Spartans average a league-low 5.3 runs per game with UH sixth at 5.6.
The Spartans are led by outfielder Jason Martin, who is sixth in the WAC with a .375 batting average. He hold the school record for hit by pitches with 52 in his career. He led the WAC in being hit with 19 and 25 in 2008 and 2009.