With only three Big West Conference games left in the season, the Hawaii baseball team still hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the title chase.
Granted, it would take a miracle on top of a miracle, followed by another miracle, for UH to finish the season as the Big West champions, but considering where it was just two weeks ago, it’s amazing Hawaii is even in this position.
UH, fourth in the Big West standings, was 1-10 in true road games and 2-12 away from Les Murakami Stadium when it left for a six-game, 11-day road trip to Long Beach State and UC Riverside.
Six wins later, the team is back for one final homes series against first-place Cal State Fullerton Friday through Sunday.
Hawaii (21-26, 12-9), which got swept in its first two road conference series, can now finish no worse than .500 in league play. The three teams above it, Fullerton, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, all boast RPI’s currently in the top 40 and all seem headed to the NCAA tournament baring a late-season meltdown.
After putting an end to Long Beach State’s NCAA tournament hopes with three wins, the ‘Bows did what they frankly should have done sweeping last-place UC Riverside.
Hawaii has separated itself from the bottom of the league, but now comes one final opportunity to show it belongs among the titans of the league.
UH is 2-11 against Cal State Fullerton since 2010 and has lost the last five, getting shut out three times. Its only win in that span came in the 2013 opener when it knocked around freshman starter Thomas Eshelman for three runs on six hits in 3 1/3 innings. Now a junior, Eshelman, Friday night’s starter, has had a historic career and was recently featured in a Sports Illustrated article showcasing his unbelievable control.
Eshelman was named the Big West pitcher of the week on Monday, ending Tyler Brashears’ two-week run, after throwing eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball with nine strikeouts to outduel top pitching prospect Dillon Tate, who lit up here against Hawaii.
He walked one in that outing, which is great for most pitchers, but not him. For his career, he has walked a total of 17 batters in 335 2/3 innings. That’s an average of 0.46 walks per nine innings. As the SI article points out, all-time greats Cy Young (1.48), Christy Mathewson (1.59) and Greg Maddux (1.79), known for their unbelievable control, come nowhere close.
Hawaii would need to sweep Cal State Fullerton and then have a combination of Fullerton losing a series at Long Beach State, UC Irvine losing five of its last six games and UC Santa Barbara losing four of its last six to win the conference. In other words, imagine winning the lottery three years in a row.
However, at least one win against Fullerton means a winning record in a conference UH was 17-34 in over its first two seasons. All four teams that finished above .500 in conference last year made the NCAA tournament.
If UH can pull off a winning BWC record this year, there’s no reason it can’t in the years to come. Combined with its routinely strong nonconference schedule, the road back to an NCAA regional for the first time since 2010 is right there for UH to take.