Tourney time is here for 'Bows
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i will open the Western Athletic Conference baseball tournament tomorrow with some momentum, some health questions and with Josh Slaats on the mound.
The Rainbows (29-25) will play Louisiana Tech (27-28) at 1 p.m. HST at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz. It is the first time since the WAC tournament's revival five years ago that it will be held at a neutral site.
The Rainbows are riding the momentum of having won six of their past nine, including taking the final two WAC series of the season against second seed New Mexico State and sixth seed San Jose State. UH took 3 of 4 in both series.
"I feel good that we've played well the last three, four weeks," UH coach Mike Trapasso said. "You want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year. To this point, we have been these past few weeks."
The concern is closer Lenny Linsky's health. The right-hander took a liner off his pitching hand in Saturday's 4-2 win in the first game of the doubleheader against San Jose State in which he notched his 11th save.
"We have to make sure Linsky's healthy," Trapasso said. "He'll get his hand out of a little soft cast tomorrow and try to play catch and see how he feels. If he feels good, I say, let's give it a run, give it a chance."
Linsky had X-rays that showed no break. "They said it was a severe bone bruise," Trapasso said.
Another is outfielder Christian Johnson, who replaced pitcher Nate Klein (elbow), who was with the team for the SJSU series. Johnson dislocated his right shoulder and tore his labrum diving for a foul fly last month at Sacramento State. He will join the team in Arizona.
"He's been cleared to swing the bat," Trapasso said. "We'll just see. We know that Klein is out completely. Christian hasn't seen pitching in six weeks. It's a long shot, but he said he's been taking some BP (batting practice) this (past) weekend and said he feels OK swinging, so we'll give it a look in practice tomorrow."
Meanwhile, after all his tribulations his past three starts, Slaats (5-3) will start against Louisiana Tech in tomorrow's tournament opener set for 1 p.m., HST.
"That's our guy who's fresh," Trapasso said. "If he pitches like he's capable of, we have a chance. If he pitches like he has been the past two, three weeks, then it will be a short night for him. But he's got to answer. He's got to go out and compete for us."
Although he won his Friday decision at San Jose State, Slaats hasn't been as effective as he was earlier in the season. The four-time WAC Pitcher of the Week had his last effective start April 22 at Louisiana Tech when he threw seven innings of five-hit ball in a 10-0 run-rule win.
"It honestly comes to a point where (the order) doesn't matter now," Trapasso said. "You may look at the matchups and say, 'Well, Josh pitched well against these guys, so you have that history.' The reality is, it doesn't matter who you throw, on what day they throw and who they throw against, for us to win this, we have to get quality starts from every guy. That doesn't mean you try to work the matchups into your favor and that's what we're trying to do by starting Josh."
He added starting Sam Spangler or Matt Sisto — they pitched the doubleheader on Saturday at SJSU — would be a bigger gamble because of the days rest between starts.
Trapasso said while his choice of starting pitchers will be day-to-day in the tournament, "you can pretty much count on Sam throwing Game 2."
The teams get an hour workout session today with UH's scheduled for 8:45 a.m. HST.
While the Rainbows have played in Arizona in past years, it will be their first time playing at Hohokam Stadium. It is not known yet how the park plays.
"I hear it's a fair park," said Trapasso, who added he'll have a better idea after today's workout.
Top-seeded Fresno State (35-23), which has won WAC tournament titles at home (2006), at Nevada (2007), at Louisiana Tech (2008) and at Hawai'i (2009), might be the hottest team having won 9 of their last 12.
Second-seeded New Mexico State (36-21-1) hasn't played since May 19 in a non-conference game against Southern California, as it drew its league bye on the last weekend of the season. The Aggies have dropped 9 of their last 10 games, including losing 3 of 4 at UH.
Third-seeded Nevada (34-20-1) also is hot, having won 7 of its last 8.
Fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech (27-28) has lost 4 of its last 6. The Rainbows split their series with the Bulldogs in Ruston, La., April 22 to 25.
Sixth-seeded San Jose State (21-35) has lost 5 of its last 8, including dropping 3 of 4 to UH over the weekend.
The odd team out of the tournament is Sacramento State (18-35-1), which was 7-17 in the WAC, two games behind sixth-place SJSU. It was coach John Smith's last season. He announced his retirement before the season after 32 seasons.
The pre-tournament dinner tonight will reveal the all-WAC teams, as well as Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.