Off the Wall With Hawaii's Ethan Lopez
Hawaii struggled to adjust in its first few seasons in the Big West Conference after moving from the Western Athletic Conference for the 2013 season. But last season the Warriors started to find their footing and finished 28-23, their first winning season since 2012.
Hawaii this season is taking another step forward. The Warriors are 20-13 and lead the Big West standings with a 6-3 record. Hawaii this weekend faces a key test as it visits perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton (17-18), which is a half game off the pace in the conference standings.
Every Big West series is critical for Hawaii, which will need to win the conference to reach regionals for the first time since 2010. The Warriors have an RPI over 100, well outside the range required for at-large consideration.
But for the last month, Hawaii has done what it's needed to, winning its last five series. The Warriors have been solid on the mound and rank third in the Big West with a 3.72 team ERA and they are backing their pitchers with strong defense and a .972 fielding percentage. Hawaii doesn’t stand out offensively, but plays small ball well and has found a way to manufacture runs.
Third baseman Ethan Lopez has emerged as one of the key pieces of the Warriors’ lineup and is hitting .286/.311/.486 with a team-high three home runs. Baseball America caught up with the junior to talk about Hawaii’s success, this weekend’s showdown at Fullerton and Chipotle.
What has been the key to the team’s success this season?
“A big thing that we like to do is we just like to play our game and have fun. We of course take it seriously, but we never take it too seriously and keep in mind that it’s a game no matter what. I think the looser we are the better we play. If you look at our dugout, we’re not a team that’s nail biting. We’re a team that keeps it loose in the dugout. We like to have fun and we enjoy what we do.”
You’ve had a solid season so far. How are you feeling at the plate?
“I’m doing all right. I’m just trying to help the team out. That’s the biggest adjustment I’ve made this season is to stop worrying about the stats, don’t worry about at-bats, just worry about doing what’s best for the team in that at-bat. Try to put the team first and let my success come second. It just takes the pressure off and lets me play the game. I really enjoy it a lot more.”
This weekend you’ve got the top two teams in the Big West facing off. What’s the feeling ahead of the series?
“It’s a lot of fun. Every weekend in the Big West is a big weekend. The conference this year—everyone is neck and neck. You lose a series and you can go from first to near last, honestly. Every series we take is a big series. We’ve got to treat it like any other one. A lot of the guys are excited. We’ve got a lot of guys from California who are going to go home and play in front of their family. You could just feel that we’re all ready. We’re ready to have some fun at Fullerton.”
You’re one of the players from California on the team. What is your favorite part of going back to California to play?
“Definitely seeing my family. I’ve got a pretty big family. They like to roll deep for the games, they like to tailgate for the games, seeing me after and everything. There’s nothing like going back home and playing in front of your family. They’re always watching the games on TV—Hawaii streams them—and they’ll send me (pictures) and everything, but there’s nothing like looking up in the crowd and seeing 50 of your family members there, especially at Fullerton. That’s what’s so special about this weekend. I’m about 10 minutes away from Cal State Fullerton so the Lopez presence is going to be pretty heavy there.”
What’s your favorite part of playing at Hawaii?
“Playing at the Les, our stadium, there’s nothing like it. We got to go to LSU. It’s a lot of fun playing in front of 10,000 people, but there’s nothing like playing in front of our own Hawaii fans. They’re one of a kind. There’s some hecklers out there and they’re pretty brutal. It’s fun to play in front of them—when they’re on our side.”
What is your walkup song and why did you pick it?
“I have Montel Jordan’s ’This Is How We Do It.’ It’s a little upbeat, it puts me in a good mood when I’m walking up to the plate and my teammates love it. All of our walkup songs we do get us all going. I like that one because it puts me in a good mood for my at-bat.”
What’s your go-to order at Chipotle?
“I’m going to have to go steak, extra guac, cheese, tomatoes and green chili. Chips and guac, too. More of a home-cooked Mexican guy though. Mom’s burrito is a little bit better.”
Who is the toughest pitcher you’ve faced in your career?
“My first at bat was off a Michigan lefty, Brett Adcock. That was my first college AB. He has to be one of the best ones. We just finished facing Zack Hess, who was pretty good. But I couldn’t pick. We’ve faced some good ones. Hard to say. (Shane) Bieber was a good one from Santa Barbara as well.”
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
“I don’t have many individual goals, to be honest, but our goal is to win the Big West and to continue to win every series. We haven’t lost a series since LSU and I think if we continue to play the way we’re capable of playing, the type of baseball we play, we shouldn’t lose a series. That’s on us. Our goal is to just play Hawaii baseball the way it should be played. Play our game and don’t let our opponent affect our game.”