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Archive for Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hawaii no paradise for baseball

May 30, 2006

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Hawaii: Nice place to visit, but few want to play baseball there.

At least, that has been Mike Trapasso's experience in trying to lure players to paradise.

"Hawaii is a great place, but it's a very challenging place to recruit to," Trapasso, the University of Hawaii's fifth-year baseball coach, said. "The initial interest is high with most guys, but then it sinks in that you're 2,500 miles away from the mainland. We've had to battle that. Combine that with the fact that Hawaii has hardly had a winning season in 10 years, and we've had to grind it out."

The once-mighty Rainbows went from 16-40 in Trapasso's first year, 2002, to back-to-back 30-win seasons in 2003 and 2004.

Now the Rainbows (43-15) are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993.

The Corvallis, Ore., regional's No. 3 seed, Hawaii will face second-seeded Kansas University (42-23) in the regional's first round at 2 p.m. CDT Friday at Oregon State's Goss Stadium.

Trapasso, who played at Oklahoma State and served as an assistant at Missouri, sees plenty of similarities between his Rainbows and the Jayhawks, who are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994.

"There are some similarities when you come in and have to rebuild and start from scratch," Trapasso, the College Baseball Foundation's national coach of the year, said. "Hawaii has a rich history in baseball, but hadn't done anything in the 10 years prior to when we came in. People in Honolulu talk about the tradition we have, but the freshmen on our team now were 3 years old the last time Hawaii went to the postseason. We've really had to just battle that."

Hawaii also had to battle nerves on Selection Monday, when the NCAA released its 64-team bracket.

The Rainbows lost in the first-round of the WAC tournament, but fought their way out of the losers' bracket to reach Sunday's championship game. There, they lost to Fresno State, 8-4, on Sunday.

Rather than return home, they gambled and holed up at a San Jose, Calif., hotel in hopes they'd land an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

They received the WAC's only at-large invitation.

"We felt pretty comfortable. Well, maybe more confident than comfortable," Trapasso said with a laugh. "We were confident in what we were hearing. We have a solid RPI. We had a solid year, a good road record, which was good for us considering the amount of miles we've had to travel. We traveled 35,000 miles this year, but that's normal for Hawaii teams. We felt confident we'd be in, but obviously we were glad to hear we'd be heading to Corvallis. We know we have a big challenge in front of us."

The biggest challenge might come from host Oregon State. The two-time Pac-10 champion, top-seeded Beavers (39-14) are ranked as high as No. 4 nationally. They won last year's Corvallis regional and super-regional and advanced to the College World Series, where they went 0-2.

Hawaii is the only Corvallis contestant not boasting a conference crown. KU won the Big 12 Conference tournament title, and fourth-seeded Wright State (32-25) won the Horizon League title.

But the 'Bows aren't cowed.

"Hawaii hasn't been in for so long : I had the cliche that we're just happy to be there, but we are just happy to be in," Trapasso said. "We don't care where we're going or who we're playing. We're just looking to forward to competing this weekend."

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