W A H I N E _ S O F T B A L L

By Dennis Oda, Associated Press
The pitching of Kelly Gentle might be the key to
Hawaii's hopes for postseason play.

UH’s Gentle
focused on lofty goals

By Cindy Luis

If . . . , then . . . If . . . , then . . .

It's a simple cause-and-effect routine for Kelly Gentle.

If she finds a goal, then she can focus. If she can focus, then she can pitch well.

And if the University of Hawaii sophomore right-hander pitches well, then the Wahine softball team has a good chance at winning. It's happened 24 of 34 times Gentle has been on the mound this season and, with a postseason bid on the line this weekend against No. 4 Fresno State, Hawaii needs to have it happen again.

Gentle's goal is to win 25 games this season. Today could be the day -- she is expected to start against the Bulldogs in the 5 p.m. opener of a WAC doubleheader at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.

"These four games will either make or break our season," said Wahine coach Bob Coolen, speculating that his 36-22 team needs to win at least two to make the NCAA Tournament. "We need Kelly to pitch well this series. We're confident she can do it.

"She's changed from last year, even from the start of this season. What I've seen is when she's reach a goal, she's pushed herself to go further."

Last year, Gentle started off 10-2 but finished 16-10. She did not win a game in the last five weeks of the season.

This year, "my head is so much smarter," said the Australian native. "I've grown so much mentally. My parents have watched me and said how they've noticed my head is more into the game. That's probably the biggest difference in coming to America. Having to grow up."

The maturity has translated into steadiness. At the point where Gentle struggled last year, she has grown stronger this year, winning five of her last six outings.

"Bob (Coolen) told me he wanted me to be a 20-game winner," said Gentle. "I didn't know if I could but when I got to 18, it made me focus. Having that goal really helped.

"It was like our past road trip. We all had goals with the team goal being to win 7 of the 10. We won eight. So when I got to 20, I decided to go for 25.

"I'm learning to control what I can control," she said. "One of my goals is not to walk any batters (she has 75 walks in 220 innings). Another one is to keep it to one earned run or less."

With the exception of 12-4 loss at New Mexico "where I had already psyched myself," she said, Gentle has given up just three runs in her last five starts to lower her ERA to 1.90.

Not bad for someone who thought pitching in college was an unattainable dream.

"I started playing T-ball when I was about eight and actually started pitching as a fluke," said Gentle, who is from Toongabbie, a suburb of Sydney. "I could throw hard and pitched for about two years without really knowing how to. Speed was all you needed at that age.

"Then I got serious, got a pitching coach and worked out with 2-3 times a week. I've worked with Kenny Aurthur, the (Australian) national team pitching coach. Playing in the Olympics is another dream."

So is beating Fresno State. The Wahine are 2-24 against the Bulldogs, losing the last 17 meetings in a row dating back to 1989.

"I have a lot to prove, especially to the people at home," said Gentle. "My physical skills have always been there but the mental part of my game hasn't been."

But lately it has been. And IF it does this weekend, THEN Gentle and the Wahine will be playing somewhere next week.

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