The Big West Conference announced its 2017 baseball preseason order of finish on Thursday, predicting the University of Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors to finish eighth, as voted on by the nine conference coaches.
The Rainbow Warriors were projected to finish seventh last season and ended the campaign in a fourth-place tie among the always-stout league, which sent three teams to the 2016 NCAA tournament.
The team to beat in the Big West Conference in 2017 is Cal State Fullerton, according to the nine conference coaches that voted on the Big West baseball pre-season poll. All three teams appeared in the tournament last year, with UCSB reaching the College World Series. Cal Poly (55) lists in fourth, ahead of UC Irvine (48), CSUN (33) and UC Riverside.
The Rainbow Warriors received 23 points, ahead of UC Davis at 13 points.
Head Coach Mike Trapasso enters his 16th season leading the Rainbow Warriors, who enter their fifth season in the vaunted Big West Conference, and have notched their best BWC records (12-12) since joining the league in each of the past two seasons. The Rainbow Warriors have a challenging home schedule as always, featuring 35 home contests at Les Murakami Stadium, where UH ranked 19th in the nation in attendance average and first in the west region last season.
While the 'Bows take a hit from graduation and will again be replenishing their pitching staff via the signing class, the Rainbow Warriors significant offensive and defensive experience in place, with eight starters back from last season.
Led by seven seniors, the Rainbow Warriors return four of their top six hitters from a year ago. After making one of the best debut seasons behind the plate in recent UH history, sophomore catcher Kekai Rios looks to build on his UH second-best .331 average last year, recording eight doubles, 23 runs and 18 RBI. Also returning to action will be sophomore Ethan Lopez (OF, .302 avg.), senior Marcus Doi (OF, .273 avg), junior Eric Ramirez (1B, .261 avg.), senior Josh Rojas (IF, .239 avg.), junior Johnny Weeks (IF, .235 avg.), senior Alex Fitchett (OF/DH, .234 avg.) and junior Chayce Ka‘aua (DH/C, .228 avg.).
On the mound, the pitching staff will be led by lone returning starter RHP Brendan Hornung, who went 4-7 with a 3.11 ERA through 16 starts. Hornung collected 74 strikeouts in 101.1 innings last year. RHP Isaac Friesen, RHP Kyle Mitchell, RHP Casey Ryan and LHP Patrick Martin also return to the bump, but UH will depend heavily on 12 members of the staff throwing their first pitches this season.
Another year with a tough schedule is slated for the Rainbow Warriors, who will open up with their annual alumni game on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 1:00 p.m. and open the season at home against No. 6 NC State in a three-game series running Feb. 17-19 at Les Murakami Stadium.
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