Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso won’t spend even a second talking about the Big West Conference race.
He knows, as does the entire Rainbow Warriors team, just how tough every weekend is in this conference. Take this weekend, for example. Hawaii left Wednesday for California where it will spend the next two weeks playing seven games in 11 days.
The ‘Bows face a Cal State Northridge team that is 1-8 in the Big West Conference and tied for last place. Not an impressive record, right? Hawaii should take care of business, right? Not so fast.
The Matadors, picked to finish fifth in the league, had to open conference play against Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. The Titans are the class of the league with five of the last six regular season titles while the Gauchos are ranked No. 9 and the Dirtbags No. 17 in the latest Baseball America poll.
Hawaii has yet to face any of those teams.
For those upcoming series to matter, UH needs a series win on the road, where it has won nine straight games in league play. Hawaii swept UC Davis two weeks after closing last year with conference sweeps at Long Beach State and UC Riverside.
CSUN is 22-7 against teams outside of the RPI top 50. Opponents are hitting just .234 against the Matadors, who sport a 3.37 team ERA. Saturday’s starter, Kenny Rosenberg, is 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA and has struck out 77 batters in 60 1/3 innings.
There’s a lot that is different about Hawaii’s offense this year. UH still ranks second in the conference in all games with a .274 batting average and is still blowing away the rest of the field in conference games hitting at a .328 clip, more than 50 points better than the next team.
Where UH has also made strides is making contact. Outside of a game against Michigan when the ‘Bows struck out a school record 20 times in one game, UH is the second-toughest team to strike out in the conference. In nine BWC games, UH is averaging 5.0 strikeouts per game. As a comparison, CSUN (9.4), Fullerton (6.9), UC Irvine (6.9), UCSB (7.8) and Cal Poly (7.7) are all much higher.
UH will need to stay with that approach as it prepares to face more pitching staffs like the one it saw against Cal Poly last weekend.
The biggest thing to watch for this weekend will be Hawaii’s starting pitching. Junior Brendan Hornung (3-5, 2.48 ERA) is coming off consecutive starts of six innings or less for the first time all season. Senior Kyle Von Ruden (5-1, 2.78) says his fingers are fine after taking a hard-hit ball off his hand in his start last week, but he lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing of the season.
Only UCSB’s Shane Bieber (65 2/3 innings) has thrown as many innings as Von Ruden (71 1/3) and Hornung (65 1/3) in the Big West this season.
It’s a fun time for a UH baseball team that is contending for the first time. A late-season run last year got UH into the upper half of the league but a first-place finish was never really a possibility.
One bad weekend can put you right out of the race. The worst record to win the league since 2009 is 17-7. Should Hawaii win every series from here on out, it would finish no worse than 16-8. A tall task indeed, but that’s the reality of playing Big West baseball.
Hawaii is enjoying being a part of the race but needs a series win to keep pace.