Revived Wahine ready for postseason
Wahine’s biggest test on the road
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For the next few days, final exams will occupy the attention of the Hawaii softball team.
Come Friday, the Rainbow Wahine will turn their focus to the tests awaiting them in regional play.
"It'll be a little bit different stress and I think the players will be able to set their priorities," UH coach Bob Coolen said.
With their season resuscitated, the Wahine left yesterday bound for Tempe, Ariz., where they face No. 25 Mississippi State on Friday to open their run in the NCAA tournament. Host Arizona State and Stony Brook round out the regional.
The regional assures a five-member senior class of at least two more games, though the Wahine are aiming for a repeat of their postseason performance last season when they won the Los Angeles regional to advance to the Super Regionals.
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Hawaii's surprising selection to the NCAA softball tournament made for a hectic two days for the team and its staff.
RAINBOW WAHINE SOFTBALL
NCAA tournament at Tempe, Ariz.: Hawaii (38-19) vs. No. 25 Mississippi (40-20), Friday, 1:30 p.m., KKEA, 1420-AM
Not that the Rainbow Wahine are complaining.
Between Sunday's announcement and yesterday's departure, the players had to take final exams or arrange to have them administered on the road, check out of their dorm rooms and pack for their trip Arizona.
But the Wahine -- who feared their season had ended with a third-place finish in last week's Western Athletic Conference tournament -- were willing to bear the inconveniences for a chance to keep playing.
"When we lost (to Nevada) on Friday I was down because I really wanted to go to postseason," senior shortstop Valana Manuma said. "But to have another chance at a regional is just another great gift."
The regional represents a fresh start for the Wahine (38-19), who open play Friday against Mississippi State (40-20). First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Hawaii time. Host Arizona State (56-5) faces Stony Brook (33-21-1) in the other opening-round game in the double-elimination regional.
The UH-MSU game will air on radio on KKEA, 1420-AM.
"This is a new opportunity," left-fielder Brandi Peiler said. "It's like we're 0-0 and starting a new season, so hopefully we'll just come in confident and just ready to play."
Once they get settled in Tempe, the Wahine will try to forge a repeat of their regional victory at UCLA last year when they advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time in school history. They return seven starters who played in the postseason last year.
"Last year when we went to UCLA we were kind of awestruck," said senior Kate Robinson. "This year we expected to be here, we prepared for it, we know how it feels, we know what it's like. ... It's a completely different environment.
When you walk into the stadium it's a different feeling."
As in the WAC tournament, the Wahine will again ride Robinson's right arm.
With a thin pitching staff, Robinson (17-8) started all four games last week and UH coach Bob Coolen will hand her the ball again in the regional. Senior Jessica Morton and freshman Melissa Gonzalez also available.
Robinson also leads the Wahine at the plate, hitting .384. She tied the school's single-season home-run record last week with her 19th homer, which also ties her for seventh nationally. Peiler is hitting .350, followed by leadoff hitter Tanisha Milca (.333), Clare Warwick (.324) and Kaulana Gould (.320).
Catcher Katie Grimes also figures to play a vital role against a Mississippi State team that has 122 stolen bases this season. In contrast, UH went 18-for-27 in stolen bases this season.
Bulldogs catcher Chelsea Bramlett (.444, 44 stolen bases) and shortstop Courtney Bures (.403, 42 RBIs) made the All-SEC first team, while pitchers Misty Flesher (19-9, 1.76 ERA) and Kelsey Nurnberg (17-9, 2.09) lead the Bulldogs in the circle.
"(MSU coach Jay Miller) will use their team speed to their advantage and we're going to have to counter that with good defense and getting some runs up early," Coolen said.
Second-ranked Arizona State won the Pac-10 title for the first time, going 18-3 in league play. Pitcher Katie Burkhart (32-5, 0.88) and outfielder Kaitlin Cochran (.436, 12 HR) are both finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. The Sun Devils rank fourth nationally in hitting at .331 and lead Division I with 89 home runs.
Stony Brook makes the trip from New York after winning its first America East Conference championship on Sunday. Sophomore pitcher Alyssa Struzenberg threw two shutouts as the Seawolves swept through the league tournament.
A shoulder injury has ended junior pitcher Courtney Baughman's season in the circle, but she was included on the travel roster for the trip to Arizona.
"I'm just excited that our program got to go and I can be a part of it with the team," Baughman said.
Baughman said she experienced swelling and numbness in her right shoulder late in the season and is set to undergo more tests to determine the cause.