Walking into Les Murakami Stadium on Wednesday before the team bus left for the airport, I ran into UH senior Matt LoCoco, who was parking his moped.
“I’m not sure I would have pegged you as the first guy to go deep this year,” I said as a joke.
LoCoco, who took New Mexcio’s Tyler Stevens, a freshman All-American last year, over the right-field wall in a 4-3, 11-inning win last Saturday, turned to me and looked a little irritated at the comment.
The Matt LoCoco I knew was the guy who worked mostly as a defensive replacement late in games last season. He appeared in 40, making 14 starts, and hit .180 in his first season with UH since transferring from Santa Rosa J.C.
It turns out he led the team in homers during scrimmages. He also said he felt the bat starting to come around toward the end of last season.
Before he disappeared into the UH locker room, I wished him good luck this weekend and said, “let’s see you do it again.” He gave me a confident look and disappeared through the doors.
I didn’t think of it again until listening to the fifth inning Friday of UH’s series opener against San Francisco. Hawaii had just put up five runs after a Kekai Rios two-run single and led 6-2 with LoCoco at-bat. Already with two hits in the game, LoCoco worked a 3-2 count before doing it once again, blasting a three-run shot out to right to blow open an 11-3 win against the Dons.
He finished with a career-high four hits and upped his average to .276 (8-for-29) with a .400 on-base percentage. He’s hit leadoff every game for UH, but where he’s really given them a boost is in the power numbers. He’s got two triples and two homers already, making him the first UH player with more than one triple AND home run in the same season since Collin Bennett had three of each in 2012.
LoCoco has the tools to hit leadoff. He stole his first base against the Dons and has worked six walks this season, leading the team. He’s also clearly UH’s best power hitter so far. No other player on the team has tripled or homered yet this season.
Hawaii finished with 16 hits against the Dons in Game 1 and while most of the chatter coming out of the New Mexico series was about pitching, the truth is the offense wasn’t much better. Hawaii was better in all phases — excluding an uncharacteristic two errors by Jacob Sheldon-Collins at shortstop — against USF. Every position player had at least one hit and starter Brendan Hornung became the first for UH this season to pitch a full seven innings.
The eight-running inning was Hawaii’s first since March 30, 2014, at UC Santa Barbara. It had only scored eight runs in an entire game twice in the previous 28 coming in.
“(LoCoco) was kind of the story of the game,” Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said to freelance writer Damin Espar, who is covering the series this weekend for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I’m glad because he had a couple of triples and a home run last weekend but he wasn’t getting on base like we know he’s capable of.”
Added LoCoco: “I felt like I’ve been swinging the bat well, but the ball was just finding people, but today it just found some holes.”
It also found some trees beyond the right-field wall, proving that clearly this idiot beat writer didn’t know what he was talking about. Based on these first seven games of the season, if there was one UH player you should have pegged to hit the first dinger, it was him.
My bad, LoCoco. My bad.