Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, May 3, 2001

[College Softball]

HPU to face
familiar foe

By Brandon Lee
Special to the Star-Bulletin

The Hawaii Pacific University softball team is up against a familiar foe in a familiar situation heading into this weekend's Pacific West Conference championship tournament.

The Pacific Division champion Sea Warriors (33-13) left last night for the four-team, double-elimination tournament hosted by West Division winner Western Washington at Bellingham tomorrow and Saturday.

Because seed order was determined by power rankings (Strength of Schedule Index) rather than conference records, HPU was seeded fourth and Western Washington third. The Vikings face second seed Western New Mexico in the tournament opener, while the Sea Warriors battle top seed Humboldt State (44-11) in the second game tomorrow.

HPU knows Humboldt State -- the No. 2 team in the NCAA Division II West Region -- well. Two years ago, the Sea Warriors beat the host Lumberjacks in the championship game of the PacWest tournament and went on to play in the West Regional.

But Humboldt State rebounded to defeat HPU in the regional championship and continued on to win the national title.

Last year, the Lumberjacks turned the table in winning the conference championship over the Sea Warriors at HPU's Windward field to move on to the regional. HPU did not receive a regional bid.

In their only meeting this year (at the Cal State Hayward tournament), HPU outhit Humboldt State, 8-5, but lost the game, 2-0.

"I like the matchup," HPU coach Howard Okita said. "I like playing (Humboldt State) first because they are No. 2 (in the region). It gives us a chance to prove ourselves and we always give them a good game."

Rounding out the schedule tomorrow, the losers of Games 1 and 2 will play, with the loser of that game being eliminated. Then the winners of Games 1 and 2 play.

On Saturday, the winner of Game 3 plays the Game 4 loser. Then the winners of Games 4 and 5 play.

And, if necessary, the winners of Games 4 and 5 will meet to determine the championship.

"They may be a little rusty, but they've looked good in practice and are ready to go," said Okita of his players, who haven't had a game in nearly two weeks.

"I've seen all the teams in the tournament play this year and anyone has a shot at winning it," he added. "It's a matter of who's hot at the time, whose bats can produce."

After jumping out to a school-record 26-1 start this year, HPU cooled off dramatically with a 7-12 finish.

The Sea Warriors are No. 7 in the West Region. Only the top four teams receiving votes this Sunday qualify for the regional tournament -- the PacWest champion does not get an automatic bid.

Besides Humboldt State at No. 2, the other teams in the top four spots of the regional rankings are all from the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Because the CCAA does not have a conference tournament before the West Regional, there is less chance for a major shake-up in the rankings.

There's less of a chance for the Sea Warriors to continue beyond this weekend, but still a slim chance, according to Okita.

The HPU coach is a voter on the West committee.

Last year, HPU finished in the fifth spot of the final regional poll and out of the West tournament, even though it narrowly lost to Humboldt State, 2-1, in the PacWest championship game. The Sea Warriors entered the conference tournament in the fourth spot.

So basically, HPU has to -- at minimum -- win the PacWest tournament to even sniff a regional bid. Win the tournament without a loss, and their chances increase just a little bit more.

"There's a slim possibility," Okita said of his team's regional chances. "But it's going to be hard to move up (in rankings) because we play just one team (Humboldt State) that's in the top four."

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