Out of contention, Rainbows will go out swinging

For the Hawaii baseball team, there will be a time for sentimental gestures and farewell gifts.

But according to head coach Rich Hill, that time will not be during a season-ending, three-game series against UC Santa Barbara that begins tonight at Les Murakami Stadium.


Despite the’Bows already eliminated from postseason consideration, Hill is expected to go all-in with a lineup that will scratch for every run and pitchers that will be used and, if needed, re-used later in the series.

“We’re trying to win Game 1,” Hill said, “then Game 2, then Game 3. Ask John McNamara of the’86 Red Sox about sentimental things when he left Bill Buckner in the game because he wanted to have his (starters) on the field to celebrate a World Series championship.”

In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the visiting Red Sox, who had a 3-2 series lead, were ahead 5-3 entering the bottom of the 10th. McNamara, the Red Sox manager, decided not to replace first baseman Bill Buckner and his aching ankles with Dave Stapleton. The Mets won it when Mookie Wilson’s grounder went between Buckner’s legs, allowing Ray Knight to race home with the decisive run. Two days later, the Mets won Game 7.

A sentimental gesture, Hill said, “goes out the window. Our fans here, our university, our players deserve everything go into every game.”

Hill said the’Bows’ focus—and effort—will not waiver.

“I think our guys would be the same if they’re playing UC Santa Barbara in a Wiffle Ball game on the roof of Costco or we’re playing UC Santa Barbara in a one-game elimination game to go to Omaha (for the College World Series ),” Hill said.

UCSB has more at stake. At 21-9, UC San Diego has clinched at least a tie for the Big West’s regular-season title. But in the third season of a four-year transition to Division I, UCSD is not eligible for the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCSB, second at 18-9, can claim that NCAA bid with a sweep of UH.

“I told our team: ‘we’re the only team in the country that controls our destiny this weekend.’” UCSB coach Andrew Checketts said. “You have to play the game one pitch at a time and be focused on one game at a time, but the elephant in the room is we have an opportunity to win a championship if we sweep. We know how challenging that is, and how hard that can be, and how good Hawaii is, and how hard it is to even come out here and win a series. We know it won’t be easy, but the opportunity is also there for our guys to go out and take it if they can go out and play to their capabilities.”

The Gauchos are a combination of power and pitching. They have hit 84 home runs in 52 games, including 42 against Big West opponents. Five Gauchos have at least 10 homers, led by Jared Sundstrom’s 15. In the past six weeks, the Gauchos have adjusted their offensive approach to being “a little more well-rounded and put the ball in play more,” Checketts said. “We just don’t want to be all or nothing, “

The Gauchos have tried to replicate the formula of their 2019 championship team, when seven position starters were shortstops in high school. “We’re looking for athletic position players who have bat-to-ball skills,” Checketts said.

The skill-specific search extended to their pitching. “We try to recruit without the radar gun in mind, ” Checketts said. “We’re looking for athletic strike-throwers who project to get bigger and stronger. … I would take that type of pitcher over someone who throws 95 (mph ) but doesn’t know where (the pitch) is going.”

The Gauchos entered the week with the nation’s fifth-lowest ERA (3.76 ). Hudson Barrett and Matt Ager, who will start tonight, have been invited to play for Team USA this summer.

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