Rainbows return to Murakami Stadium to host Oklahoma

Alan Baldwin

The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warrior baseball squad (6-10) wrapped up a seven-game road swing last weekend at Houston’s Minute Maid Park in the Houston College Classic, emerging with a 1-2 record after facing teams from the Big 12, Big 10 and American Athletic Conference. The ‘Bows continue at home this week with another top-tier opponent, as the Oklahoma Sooners make the journey to Les Murakami Stadium for a four-game non-conference tilt, running Thursday (March 12) through Sunday (March 15).

These teams will meet for the 29th time in the series, but it will be the first since 1982, when the teams split the series at old UH Stadium. The Rainbow Warriors carry a 15-13 (.536) series advantage into this weekend’s four-game set.

The series will open on Thursday (March 12) at 6:35 p.m. HT at Les Murakami Stadium, continuing on Friday (March 13) and Saturday (March 14) with 6:35 p.m. HT meetings. The final game of the weekend is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. HT on Sunday (March 15).

The Sooners (12-6) have faced serious major conference competition in the early season and have come out on top in nine of their last 11 outings, most recently taking two of three from Purdue in the confines of L. Dale Mitchell Park. While OU will make its longest trip of the year to meet the ‘Bows, the Sooners have already taken on a five-set in Arizona and met BYU for four contests in Las Vegas.

Before heading out to Honolulu, the Sooners first match up with Oral Roberts for an in-state rivalry game at home on Tuesday (March 10) night.

The Sooners are performing well in both facets of the game through 18 games, limiting opponents on defense with a 2.81 team ERA, while putting up 7.3 runs per contest, thanks largely to a .287 team batting average and .381 on-base percentage.

Leading the pack is third-year starter in center field, Craig Aikin. The Sooners’ leadoff batter is hitting a Big 12 sixth-ranked .397 on the year, scoring a team-best 22 runs in addition to 14 RBI, reaching base at a .452 clip. An All-Big 12 Second Team selection a year ago, Aiken shares the team lead with five (5) doubles out of his team-high 29 hits. Sharing the spotlight is reigning Big 12 Player of the Week Sheldon Neuse, who bats .343 and is coming off a weekend against Purdue in which he hit .688 with three (3) home runs, two (2) doubles, driving in 10 runs and scoring eight (8) himself. Neuse leads the Sooners’ RBI effort with 22 on the campaign, leading the Big 12 and ranking 11th in NCAA Division I.

On the mound, the sophomore tandem of Jake Elliott and Alec Hanson have been OU’s most consistent starters, appearing in four starts apiece, recording inning counts of 24.2 and 22.0, respectively. Elliott holds a 2-1 record and 3.28 ERA with 27 strikeouts to eight (8) walks, limiting opponents to .215 hitting. Hanson is also 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA and leads the team with 32 strikeouts versus 10 walks, allowing a .244 average against.

The ‘Bows are coming off a heartbreaker against then-No. 8 Houston, giving up a four-run lead in the sixth versus the Cougars to fall 8-6 in Houston. Hawai’i pressed Nebraska to the limit the day before, falling short on a ninth-inning rally in the 4-3 loss to the Huskers. UH opened the tournament with a tight 2-1 victory over Big 12 foe Baylor, showcasing an outstanding outing for starter LJ Brewster.

Against the Bears, Brewster (3-1) arose victorious from the pitcher’s duel, pitching 6.1 innings, recording seven (7) strikeouts, allowing a single run. On the campaign, Brewster has been the most consistent pitcher for the ‘Bows, going a team-high 25.2 innings with a 1.75 ERA and team-best 21 strikeouts, limiting opponents to .202 hitting.

Despite a tough weekend, freshman first baseman Eric Ramirez remains a consistent offensive threat for the ‘Bows, hitting .309 and tying for the team RBI lead (11), while reaching base at a .412 clip and scoring nine (9) runs.

Over the weekend, the ‘Bows picked up some solid offensive output from shortstop Jacob Sheldon-Collins, who hit .444 across the three-game set with two (2) runs scored. Third Baseman Alex Sawelson was steady as well, hitting .385 with a pair of key RBI. Center fielder Kaeo Aliviado has now reached base in five consecutive games and earned All-Tournament Team honors at the Houston College Classic, batting .273 with two (2) RBI. Registering the top RBI count over the weekend was second baseman JJ Kitaoka, who batted .250, but drove in five (5) scores through the tournament.

The first three games of the Oklahoma series will be broadcast on OCSports (channels 16 [SD] and 1016 [HD]), with immediate re-airings to follow. Sunday’s finale will not be televised. All games of the Oklahoma series will air on radio broadcast on ESPN Honolulu 1420 AM, with a possible change to NBC Sports 1500 AM, depending on the outcomes for UH men’s basketball at the Big West Championships.

Games 17-20
What: Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (6-10) vs. the Oklahoma Sooners (12-6)
When: Thursday (6:35 p.m. HT)
Friday (6:35 p.m. HT)
Saturday (6:35 p.m. HT)
Sunday (1:05 p.m. HT)
Where: Honolulu, O’ahu (Les Murakami Stadium)
Television: OC Sports (channels 16 [SD] and 1016 [HD]) will broadcast the first three games of the series, Thursday-Friday.
Streaming Video: The TV broadcast will appear on Big West TV at http://bit.ly/UHBSB
Radio: ESPN Honolulu 1420 AM with Don Robbs and Scott Robbs. Neighbor islands can listen live on KNUI on Maui, KHLO in Hilo, KKON in Kona and KTOH on Kaua’i.
Audio Webcast: http://www.espn1420am.com
Live Stats: Live in-game stats will be provided by Hawai’i Athletics throughout the series at the links listed below.
Promotions: First Hawaiian Bank is the game sponsor on Thursday and Friday and will distribute 300 hand fans each day. Fans can also register to win great prizes. Oceanic Time Warner Cable is the game sponsor on Saturday and Sunday and will award great prizes throughout the game. Friday’scontest will be followed by an autograph session on the field.

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