(HAWAII ATHLETICS) – The University of Hawai'i baseball team (5-2) will close out the season-opening homestand this weekend at Les Murakami Stadium, as host to 2017 West Coast Conference (WCC) Co-Champion Loyola Marymount (1-6). The four-game series is scheduled Thursday through Sunday (March 1-4) with three night games and a matinee finale.
The Rainbow Warriors last opened the season with a 5-2 or better record during the 2007 season when UH won 34 games. They are coming off a split series against a scrappy BYU Cougars squad – with both losses and one victory decided by a single run. BYU was the other WCC Co-Champ last season with LMU and went on to an NCAA Regional.
Stout pitching from both starters and relievers have been the foundation for Hawai'i in the early season, as the pitching staff ranks 19th nationally and first in the Big West with a 2.03 team ERA. Leading that charge for the starters, redshirt junior Jackson Rees holds a 1.50 ERA with a team-high 11 strikeouts, tossing five innings against BYU while overcoming an illness. Three tough relievers have also emerged in senior Colin Ashworth (0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 K), freshman Cade Smith (1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 4 K) and redshirt sophomore Kyle Hatton (0.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 0 H, 2 BB, 1 K).
After lighting up the batter's box against Air Force, the hitting was not up to speed for UH against BYU, dropping the team average to .268. However, the Rainbow Warriors were still able to produce runs each outing to deliver the 2-2 series tie and rank third among conference team averages.
The obvious team leader early on has been sophomore right fielder Adam Fogel, who ranks third in the Big West with a .455 average. Six of his team-high 10 hits have gone for extra bases, namely a conference-leading four doubles and two home runs. He's reaching base at a .586 clip and has four RBI and six runs so far.
Quickly becoming a fan favorite, junior shortstop Maaki Yamazaki is hitting .333 with a pair of doubles, four RBI and two runs. He's already aided in five double plays for UH and ties third baseman Ethan Lopez for the team lead with 19 assists.
As for the Lions, who face Southern California before heading to the islands, Loyola Marymount is off to its toughest start since 2010. After opening on a winless weekend at the Marucci Desert Classic in Las Vegas, the Lions dropped an extra-innings affair to UC Irvine and a 1-2 series at home to Oregon.
Some cause for the low-win opening is the breaking in of a lot of new pitching. LMU returns only about 30 percent of its innings from a year ago and has only used one upperclassman in its pitching rotation early. The Lions have a 5.83 ERA as a team and are allowing nine hits and 6.3 runs per game.
At the plate, the Lions are batting .228, led by four-year senior starter in center field Billy Wilson, who is hitting .385 with team highs of 10 hits, five RBI and six runs. Also swinging the bat well early, first-team Junior College All-American Ryan Ruley is hitting .316 with four RBI and two runs, but missed the past two outings. Second-year starter at shortstop, Niko Decolati also chips in .296 hitting with four RBI and six runs. He's also the team leader with five steals on a very aggressive team baserunning attack – the Lions collecting 12-of-13 steals so far. Wilson is also 3-for-3 on steals.
These teams will meet for the 42nd time, playing their first series since 2011, a split series in Los Angeles. Hawai'i swept in the last four-game series at Les Murakami Stadium, with 3-of-4 games decided by a single run. Hawai'i has lost the last two single-game meetings (2015, '16), but leads the overall series 29-12.
After wrapping up four games with the Lions this weekend, the Rainbow Warriors will make their first road trip of the year, traveling to Baton Rouge, La. to face 2017 College World Series runner-up and current No. 14 LSU at Alex Box Stadium.