The University of Hawai'i baseball team (18-9) opens a crucial six-game road swing this week with its initial Big West series at Cal Poly (10-17, 2-1 BWC). The Rainbow Warriors have won eight of their last 10 games and head to San Luis Obispo with the best start since the 2006 season.
Finishing 3-1 over the weekend despite some offensive struggles late in the Nevada series, the Rainbow Warriors look to stay in the same groove as the 2006 squad, who also opened the year 18-9. Those 'Bows then went on to win 45 games, including a pair at the NCAA Corvallis Regional.
Hawai'i enters the conference slate with the best overall record among Big West teams, set to run up against one of the nation's most annually reputable and challenging baseball conferences. Heading into the weekend, the Big West ranks seventh in conference RPI and 6-of-9 league schools rank among the RPI top 150.
Hosting this week with a 10-17 record, Cal Poly already has a jump on UH in the standings, taking the BWC road series victory at UC Irvine, coming out with a 2-1 win across three one-run contests – familiar territory for UH, which has played 8-of-11 one-run games to victory this season.
The Rainbow Warriors opened last year's set with a win in Honolulu, but the Mustangs bounced back for the 2-1 series victory – the final two games decided by just four runs.
Heading up the Mustangs' charge, sophomore outfielder Alex McKenna paces Cal Poly with a .318 average, posting a team-high 18 runs and 10 RBI, while sharing the team lead with six steals. Senior infielder Michael Sanderson also bats .317 with nine runs and run RBI, while .250-hitting catcher Nick Meyer does the most on the scoreboard, leading the team with 17 RBI, on top of 12 runs.
As a team, Cal Poly is hitting .260 and bringing in 3.96 runs per game. The mustangs struggled away from the house in opening the season with an 11-game road swing, and have seen much better results since returning to Baggett Stadium. On the mound, CP holds a 4.00 ERA and allows 4.85 runs per contest. The 'Bows will meet a familiar Mustang right out of the gate, as preseason Rawlings All-American Erich Uelmen is the Friday starter. This season, he's 1-4 with a 2.38 ERA, ranking second in the Big West with 45 strikeouts – behind UH's Brendan Hornung. Last year, he gave up 4 runs and nine hits across a 6.2-inning stretch versus UH.
The Rainbow Warriors can credit a lot of this year's success to their pitching staff, coming through with a stalwart performance so far, with 14 wins going to starters. The staff ERA of 3.01 ranks 16th nationally and second in the Big West. Driving the 'Bows staff is the lack of free passes, leading the NCAA with 2.1 walks per nine innings, setting up an 18th-ranked 3.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The 'Bows allow 4.07 runs a game on the mound, but have amped up the scoring with a 5.4-run scoring average, while hitting .270 on the year. Sophomore catcher Kekai Rios has been a steady at and behind the plate, batting .337 with a .459 on-base percentage, chipping in 17 runs and 12 RBI – while catching nine would-be base thieves. Reaching base in all 27 contests of his UH career, leadoff hitter and junior center fielder Dylan Vchulek bats .315 and leads the team with 23 runs scored and 14 RBI – while swiping eight bases along the way to surpass last year's leader.
The hero coming out of Sunday's game was senior third baseman Josh Rojas, who has been making primetime plays with his glove all year – including Sunday's game-saving line drive grab. He's also been on the steady rise with his bat, hitting .286 at present with 18 runs, 15 RBI and team highs of eight doubles and three triples – he accounted for all three runs in Sunday's series-clinching victory (two RBI, one run).
Speaking of extra bases, the Rainbow Warriors have picked up 56 doubles, eight triples and 10 home runs; that's well above pace from last year – also keeping in mind that's with 23 games at the pitcher-friendly Les Murakami Stadium. The 'Bows have already exceeded the annual home run counts dating back to 2012.
The Mustangs lead the series between these teams with a 17-8 advantage, dating back to 1995. Cal Poly has been in command since the series went to the Big West, with UH trailing 9-3 since 2013.
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