Hawaii baseball gets another tough test in Cal State Northridge

May 3—1/1

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Hawaii believes it has an edge against anyone when it plays at Les Murakami Stadium.

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Parity at the Les?

In what appears to be a recurring theme, the Hawaii baseball team will face another top Big West opponent at Les Murakami Stadium. Cal State Northridge has won nine in a row entering tonight's opener of a three-game series.

"They're all first-place teams to me," UH coach Rich Hill said of the Matadors, who are in a three-way tie atop the Big West at 14-4. "The Big West is the best baseball conference in the West. It's the best mid-major conference in any sport in the country. Every weekend is kind of a nightmare. You just have to really start to bring your 'A' game."

But Hill noted the Rainbow Warriors, at home, find strength from Mother Nature and a feisty bullpen.

"When it gets to the seventh inning," Hill said, "we have a saying: 'seven, eight, nine, it's 'Bow Warrior time.' And then mist comes from the Manoa Valley. And then (opponents) start making errors. And then our fans are on 'em. And then it just starts to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West or the East, whatever one it was. And then the 'Bows end up on top. I don't care who we play. When they're playing here, it's tough."

This season, UH relievers have accounted for 64% of the innings pitched and 62% of the strikeouts. The relievers, who have a combined 3.43 earned-run average, have been credited with 19 of the 'Bows' 26 victories.

After impressing out of the bullpen, freshman left-hander Sebastian Gonzalez has moved to the front of the rotation, and will make his second series-opening start tonight.

And right-handed freshman Brayden Marx now is viewed as the closer. Marx, a highly regarded prospect from Utah, made his UH debut against Ole Miss in February, an outing that proved to be overwhelming.

"I always prided myself in being good under pressure," Marx said, adding the large home crowd "kind of got to me."

The plan was for Marx to build confidence — and control — during scrimmages and bullpen sessions. He made only two appearances in March. "It's our job," Hill said of Marx's early usage. "It's college baseball. This is a development job. Our program is completely based around developing young people — not only on the field but off the field. Brayden has made a jump."

On April 12, Marx pitched a scoreless and hitless inning, striking out two. He did not allow an earned run in his next four appearances. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out eight, during that span.

"I think finally something clicked in my mind," Marx said. "I simplified it, just go out there and throw strikes. Because early on, that was what I was struggling with. ... After I simplified it, I'd go out there, command the zone, and then be able to go out there and be effective and get outs."

Marx, who averages 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings, relies on a curveball he first learned when he was 11. He said a youth-team coach told him not to overuse the breaking pitch until he was older. "He taught me how to throw it the right way," Marx said. "It really became my bread and butter, and I kept working on it and working on it. That's how it got to be the pitch it is today. Now it's my favorite pitch to throw."

The 'Bows have won five in a row, including four in league play to reach .500 (9-9). At one point, they were 4-8 in the Big West.

"I never thought we ever lost faith," first baseman Kyson Donahue said. "We were playing good baseball. We just weren't putting it together on both sides of the field. Just trusting and knowing what we're capable of doing."