When you’ve achieved a feat as a freshman that only Kolten Wong has done in the last 15 years, you know you’re doing something right.
Ethan Lopez‘s 16-game hitting streak has been extra impressive considering it began in a pinch-hitting role and continued only because he got a hit in his only at-bat of a game at UC Santa Barbara more than three weeks ago.
It has taken time for Lopez to join the every-day starting lineup in his first year with the Rainbow Warriors. Once he did in the final game of the CSUN series exactly one month ago, Lopez has excelled.
He hit a double in each of his first three games starting with that CSUN game. He’s one of only two players on the team with multiple home runs this season and both have come against ranked teams on the road (at UC Santa Barbara, at Cal State Fullerton).
Lopez had a 3-for-4 performance with a triple, two runs, an RBI and a stolen base against Long Beach State and he finished 5-for-11 with a home run, three runs and two RBIs, including a game-winning hit, in the series win at Cal State Fullerton, which was leading the country in ERA.
He’s now tied for second on the team in hitting at .333 with another freshman, catcher Kekai Rios, who together make for two exciting pieces for the future of UH baseball.
“You look at him and Kekai and how they’re just coming into their own right now,” Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said after Sunday’s win. “They’re not freshmen anymore and they continue to come up big when the pressure is on. That’s something they are capable of doing and these two kids continue to do it.”
Rios got a break Lopez didn’t when starting catcher Chayce Ka’aua went down with a broken finger two weeks into the season, forcing Rios into the starting lineup. Lopez has to wait behind starting second baseman Josh Rojas, who won the job in the fall and spring while Lopez was slowed with a back injury.
Lopez got a chance at second with Rojas struggling, but went 4-for-22 during six starts against Michigan and Chicago State, forcing Trapasso to go back to Rojas.
With the team scuffling during a seven-game road trip, Lopez got the start in a nonconference game against Loyola Marymount and went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. With Rojas hitting a little better while playing solid defense, Lopez began to get some time at designated hitter.
Eventually, the coaching staff has decided to give Lopez a look in right field, where Hawaii has struggled to get offensive production out of all season long. Maybe even more impressive than the hitting streak is the defense Lopez has played in right, showing a strong arm and the ability to cover a lot of ground.
Hawaii finished 12-12 in the Big West for the second straight year and has a three-game series to end the season against Arizona (33-20) starting Friday. It’s the fourth straight season UH will finish with an overall losing record, but there’s clearly hope on the horizon.
UH returns eight offensive players next year who started at least 25 games in Lopez, Rios, Rojas, 1B Eric Ramirez, 3B Johnny Weeks, OF Marcus Doi, OF Alex Fitchett and C/OF Chayce Ka’aua.
The focal point for Trapasso and his coaching staff this offseason will be bring in a pitching recruiting class similar to 2015, in which Hawaii signed Tyler Brashears, Kyle Von Ruden, Cody Culp, Alex Hatch and Matt Valencia all in the same class.
With Lopez and Rios showing the kind of players they are already, if UH can bring in the pitching to match it, 2017 will be the best UH has been set up for success since a certain Wong fellow was drafted five years ago.