Rainbow Wahine close out regular season with victory
With the mood around the ballpark as gloomy as the Manoa sky, the Hawaii softball team's senior class helped provide a sunny end to the regular season for the Rainbow Wahine.
Following a stunning 2-1 loss to last-place Utah State in the first game of yesterday's Western Athletic Conference doubleheader at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, UH salvaged a split with a 4-1 win behind a complete-game performance by fifth-year senior Paula Blanning.
With fellow senior Kristi Yoshizawa behind the plate, Blanning recovered from a shaky first inning to finish with six strikeouts in the final home appearances of their UH careers.
"We talked right before the end of the (seventh) inning and it finally hit us," Yoshizawa said. "It was sad, but it was good that we got to finish together and she did really good, I was happy for her."
"That worked out well," UH coach Bob Coolen said. "I told Paula yesterday she was pitching, and it was her game and I'm glad it worked out that way. It's one of those things you don't always have the opportunity to get done, to let them play out their careers like that."
Although the day ended on a positive note for the Rainbow Wahine (27-20, 9-7 WAC), the doubleheader split against the Aggies (8-38, 3-14) might still prove costly.
The Wahine could have secured the third seed in this week's WAC tournament with a sweep of Utah State. Instead, they'll have to complete a protested game with Nevada prior to the start of the tournament to determine their seeding.
UH's senior day ended up being memorable for both teams. Utah State catcher Sara Fleming went 3-for-6 and drove in all the Aggies' runs in the doubleheader.
Her two-run homer in the first inning proved to be the difference in the opener -- which was delayed twice by rain -- as senior pitcher Leslie Higley picked up her first win of the season after entering the game 0-12.
Hawaii began the day having retired 41 consecutive hitters at RWSS with perfect games by Kate Robinson against New Mexico State and Justine Smethurst in Friday's 6-0 victory over the Aggies in their previous two home games.
The streak ended in the first inning when Whitnie Ray's grounder snuck into center field for a single. Fleming then launched a 1-2 pitch from UH freshman Courtney Baughman over the left-field fence.
Baughman faced just one batter over the minimum after that, but the UH offense left eight runners on base, five in scoring position, and grounded into two rally-killing double plays. Yoshizawa drove in UH's lone run with a two-out infield single in the sixth.
"We just were not as aggressive as we were last night," Coolen said. "We came out a little bit flat and we weren't aggressive."
Utah State took the lead again early in the second game as Fleming scored Quela Leonhardt with a single to right field.
Blanning settled down from there, relying on an array of offspeed pitches in allowing just two singles and a walk the rest of the way.
"It was a little rocky in the first inning, but I got more into a rhythm after that," she said. "I think I was just a little tight and I needed to loosen up."
Said Yoshizawa: "We were using everything, her dropball and her screwball. She did really good at keeping the batters off-balance that way."
The UH offense provided the support she needed by scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. Freshman Tanisha Milca drove in two runs with a double to center and Kaulana Gould's groundout scored Tyleen Tausaga.
Clare Warwick padded the lead with a solo homer to center field in the fifth inning. It was UH's 40th home run of the season, tying a school record.
Notes: UH and Nevada will resume the protested game at the point the protest was filed -- in the top of the fifth with Nevada leading 2-1. UH went on to win the game 4-2 on April 30, but the victory was nullified when the NCAA upheld Nevada's protest. ... The WAC tournament begins Thursday in Fresno, Calif. UH will play either Louisiana Tech or New Mexico State in its first game.
|Utah State (8-37, 3-13)
|Hawaii (26-20, 8-7)
Leslie Higley and Sara Fleming; Courtney Baughman and Kristi Yoshizawa. W--Higley. L--Baughman.
Leading hitters--USU: Fleming, HR, 2 RBI. UH: Valana Manuma, 2-3.
|Utah State (8-38, 3-14)
|Hawaii (27-20, 9-7)
Lindsey Benson, Lexy Perry (5), Jill Bruins (6) and Sara Fleming, Heather Haak (5); Paula Blanning and Kristi Yoshizawa. W--Blanning. L--Benson.
Leading hitters--USU: Fleming, 2-3, RBI. UH: Clare Warwick, 2-3, solo HR; Tanisha Milca, 2-3, 2 2b.