(Hawaii Athletics) - The Big West Conference announced its 2018 baseball preseason order of finish on Wednesday, projecting the University of Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors to finish seventh, as voted on by the nine conference coaches.
The Rainbow Warriors were predicted to finish eighth last year, ending the season in fifth among the teams in one of the nation's toughest leagues, which sent two teams to the 2017 NCAA tournament, and one (Cal State Fullerton) to the College World Series for the fourth straight year.
An annual contender, the team to beat in the Big West Conference in 2018 is No. 11 Cal State Fullerton for the second straight year, according to the nine conference coaches that voted on the Big West baseball pre-season poll, earning first with 73 points and six first-place votes. A 2017 NCAA Super Regional squad, Long Beach State lists at second (65), while Cal Poly is third (64). Of the remaining six teams, UC Santa Barbara is fourth (49), CSUN fifth (48), UC Irvine sixth (43), Hawai'i seventh (27), UC Riverside eighth (26) and UC Davis (10) closing out the preseason predictions.
Head Coach Mike Trapasso enters his 17th season leading the Rainbow Warriors, and the squad's sixth season in the Big West Conference. Hawai'i was 10-14 last year in league play and logged a 12-12 BWC record in each of the prior two seasons. As always, the Rainbow Warriors home schedule features tough competition, including 32 home contests at Les Murakami Stadium, where UH ranked 21st in the nation in attendance and second in the west region last season.
Graduation often takes a toll on the Rainbow Warriors, but this year UH has a stocked stable with experienced returning talent. UH will not need to replenish its pitching staff, which returns 3-of-4 starters, while the 'Bows lost only two position starters heading into this season.
The starting rotation of junior Dominic DeMiero (4-5, 3.58 ERA), senior Neil Uskali (6-4, 3.59 ERA) and junior Jackson Rees (5-2, 4.11 ERA) will be back in action on the hill for a Hawai'i staff that led the nation in limiting walks and was 22nd nationally (second Big West) with a 3.58 ERA. The trio accounted for 124 strikeouts last year. Not to mention that 2017 Freshman All-American closer Dylan Thomas is back on the bump after logging nine saves, a 2.01 ERA, 1-0 record and 20 strikeouts in 22 innings.
Batting .302 last season as the leadoff man in center field, senior Dylan Vchulek returns to lead Hawai'i, which returns five of its top six hitters from 2017. Vchulek paced the team with 61 hits, recording 35 runs with 23 RBI. The 'Bows led the league in doubles and UH's other Freshman All-American, Adam Fogel will return to the outfield after batting .293 with a team-high 16 doubles, four home runs, 27 RBI and 21 runs as a rookie.
Also returning to action for the Rainbow Warriors will be sophomore infielder and RBI leader Dustin Demeter (.286 avg., 29 RBI), third-year starting catcher Kekai Rios (.282 avg., 10 doubles, 21 RBI, 29 runs), sophomore utility Logan Pouelsen (.276 avg.), four-year starting senior infielder Johnny Weeks (.266 avg., 27 runs, 25 RBI) and senior fourth-year starting first baseman Eric Ramirez (.221 avg., 17 RBI, 5 HR).
Another year with a tough schedule is slated for the Rainbow Warriors, who will open up with their annual alumni game on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 1:00 p.m. and kick off the season at home against 2017 NCAA hitting leader Air Force in a four-game series running Feb. 16-18 at Les Murakami Stadium.