Rainbows in Omaha

Rainbows in Omaha

June 6, 1980: Moments after the University of Hawaii baseball team’s stirring run in the College World Series came to a disappointing end, head coach Les Murakami offered these reassuring words: “We’ll be back.”

The Rainbows had just fallen to Arizona, 5-3, in the winner-take-all game to decide the CWS championship. Murakami gave credit to the Wildcats – “Let’s face it, man-for-man they were a better team than we were” – but pledged that the CWS had not seen the last of Hawaii.

“We’ll be back,” he repeated. “We’ve got too many good, young pitchers. Even if it’s not next year, I guarantee you that by the time [our pitchers] become juniors we’ll be back. We’ve got the program rolling now. We’ll win this thing one of these years.”

No one doubted Murakami at the time. But while the Rainbow Warriors certainly knocked on the door a few times, making 10 NCAA Regional appearances since 1980, the program has yet to fulfill the coaching legend’s vow.

That takes nothing away from the 1980 team’s amazing CWS run. To commemorate the program’s 40th anniversary of its CWS appearance, let’s look back on the games themselves:

NCAA CENTRAL REGIONAL (Austin, Texas)

May 23rd: HAWAII 8, PAN AMERICAN 4. Catcher Collin Tanabe had 3 hits and drove in 2 runs to lead Hawaii to a dominating 8-4 win over Pan American. The ‘Bows tagged former Waipahu Marauder pitcher Alan Maria for 15 hits over six innings. Pitcher Chuck Crim picked up the win for Hawaii, raising his record to a perfect 14-0.

May 24th: HAWAII 2, LOUISIANA TECH 1. Playing with an injured ankle, Greg Oniate belted a pair of doubles and drove in Hawaii’s 2 runs to key a close 2-1 victory over the Bulldogs. Pitcher David Smith was solid throughout the game, scattering 5 hits over nine innings.

May 25th: HAWAII 7, TEXAS 3. Hawaii was held scoreless for the first five innings, but scored 6 runs in the decisive sixth frame to punch their first-ever ticket to the CWS. Centerfielder Rick Bass opened the inning with a single, and .then second baseman Thad Reece blasted a 2-run homer to launch a UH rally. Texas pitchers were rattled, giving up walks and wild pitches. Reece singled in another run in the sixth, bringing home Kevin Williams. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for a long time,” Murakami told the Honolulu Advertiser’s Ferd Lewis after the game. “We’re finally in.”

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES (Omaha, Nebraska)

May 30th: HAWAII 7, FLORIDA STATE 6. Florida State had the go-ahead runs on base, but UH centerfielder Rick Bass made a spectacular sliding catch with two outs in the final inning of play to preserve Hawaii’s thrilling one-run victory. Greg Oniate and Kimo Perkins each batted in two runs to lead the ‘Bows attack, while future major league pitcher Chuck Crim picked up his 15th win of the season.

June 1st: HAWAII 7, ST. JOHN’S 2. Les Murakami celebrated his 44th birthday by seeing his UH team beat up on St. John’s, 7-2. The game didn’t start well for the Rainbows, as they hit into a triple play (reportedly the first in CWS history). But Rick Bass knocked in 3 runs and first baseman Howard Dashefsky went 3 for 4 at the plate to pace the UH attack. On the pitcher’s mound, Davis Smith picked up his 11th win of the season and reliever Sam Kakazu earned his fourth save. “I told the team it’s got to be the best birthday present I’ve had,” Murakami said after the game.

June 3rd: HAWAII 9, MIAMI 3. The Rainbows rode the heavy bat of Collin Tanabe to put away the No. 1-ranked team in the country, 9 to 3. Tanabe blasted a 400-foot, 3-run homer in the second inning and a 2-run double in the eighth. Tanabe had entered the game mired in a 2-for-13 slump. Pitcher Bryan Duquette struggled early, but did enough to notch his 11th win of the season. Said the jubilant Tanabe afterward, “The more we win, the more we get hungrier, and the more we get pumped up. It felt great.”

June 4th: ARIZONA 6, HAWAII 4. The UH baseball team was alerted of a tornado warning as they rode back to their hotel after the game. By then, however, they were already in a devastated state. The Arizona Wildcats handed UH their first loss in the CWS – a 6-4 game that went 11 innings. Hawaii took an early 2-0 lead thanks to singles by Rick Bass and Eric Tokunaga, but Arizona’s Scott Stanley belted a grand slam in the eighth to give the Wildcats the lead. Hawaii tied the game in the bottom of the inning, but Arizona came back and took the lead for good after an 11th-inning triple off UH reliever Alan Lane.

June 6th: ARIZONA 5, HAWAII 3. The end of the Rainbows. In the CWS championship game, Arizona again proved to be too much for the scrappy team from the 808. The Wildcats’ 3-run fourth inning proved to be the decisive stanza. Arizona’s Terry Francona, now the manager of the Cleveland Indians, was named the CWS MVP. The next day, the Honolulu Advertiser paid tribute to the UH team in a glowing editorial: “A young team coach Les Murakami figured to be a year or two away from championship play fought its way to a 60-18 record, the championship of the Western Athletic Conference in Hawaii’s first year of participation, victory in the central regionals, and through three straight wins in the Omaha series before going down fighting to Arizona. It was, in short, one of the great Hawaii sports stories, perhaps just missing being the greatest – our version of the U.S. Olympic hockey team – by the problem of a few too many men left on base … If part of the theme has to be ‘wait ‘till next year,’ the happy truth is that we can all be proud of this year, as well. They are winners.”

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