Wahine softball team hopes tourney tests produce WAC success


POSTED: Friday, March 20, 2009

More than halfway through its season, the Hawaii softball team left for the mainland on Wednesday in search of a fresh start.





        Hawaii (11-16, 0-0 WAC) at Louisiana Tech (13-12, 0-0), 8 a.m. tomorrow (DH), 10 a.m. Sunday.



The Rainbow Wahine have endured their growing pains in a run of early-season tournaments to enter the Western Athletic Conference campaign at 11-16. Now they hope the lessons learned in that stretch will pay off in the league schedule, which opens tomorrow with a doubleheader at Louisiana Tech (13-12) in Ruston, La.

“;We've had a tough preseason, but we have the chance to start again,”; senior third baseman Clare Warwick said. “;It's good for us because our team's changed a lot, so I think we're starting to solidify and I think it's going to be a good challenge. Definitely we're all pumped up for a new start.”;

The Rainbow Wahine capped their tournament slate last week, closing with a 5-3 win over Memphis last Friday to close the rain-abbreviated Chevron Spring Fling tournament.

The final day of the tournament was washed out last Saturday, leaving the Wahine to turn their attention to the conference season.

“;We came together as a team and said we have to keep moving forward and focus on the next game,”; said senior Tanisha Milca, the team's leading hitter. “;We can't keep living in the past, we have to keep moving forward, and that's what this WAC season is going to be about — moving forward and taking what we've learned from the past and growing with it.”;

After losing a prolific senior class that helped power the Wahine to back-to-back NCAA regional berths, Hawaii faced a challenging nonconference schedule that included nine games against ranked opponents, starting with an upset of Oklahoma to open the season.

They also defeated No. 23 Ohio State and suffered one-run losses to LSU, Tennessee and top-ranked Alabama.

A pitching rotation that has gotten younger as the season progressed holds the team's WAC fortunes. With Justine Smethurst deciding not to return to UH after playing in the Olympics for Australia and injury clouding senior Courtney Baughman's status, freshman Stephanie Ricketts has moved to the top spot.

Ricketts enters the WAC at 6-5 with a 2.32 earned-run average and 89 strikeouts against 29 walks in 87 1/3 innings. She went the distance in a 1-0 eight-inning loss to Alabama last month and has tossed four shutouts.

Fellow freshmen Makani Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu and Sarah Robinson — who were pitching for Mililani and Moanalua last year — made their first career starts in last week's tournament.

Milca and Warwick are the only UH players to have started all 27 games so far, with Milca leading the Wahine hitters at .386 with five homers and 17 RBIs.

Sophomore Amanda Taualii has taken over at first base, hitting .359 with a team-high seven home runs and 22 runs batted in. Dara Pagaduan, another freshman, is hitting .324 to carve out a job at second base.

“;They've gotten a lot of experience and they've done really well for us when they've gone in,”; said Warwick, the preseason WAC Player of the Year. “;A lot of opportunities have been created during the season for a lot of the younger girls and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can all do in the WAC.”;

Hawaii was picked third in the WAC preseason poll. Favorite Fresno State (14-12) is ranked 25th in this week's USA Today/NFCA coaches poll. Nevada posted the WAC's top nonconference record at 20-9, hitting .338 as a team in support of a pitching staff led by Katie Holverson (11-6, 108 strikeouts).

New Mexico State (19-10) is the WAC's most productive team at the plate with a .354 team batting average. Kamehameha graduate Hoku Nohara ranks among the league's top hitters at .415 with eight home runs.

Louisiana Tech captured last year's WAC tournament championship in Honolulu and is led by shortstop Amberly Waits, the WAC's second-leading hitter at .462.