Star-Bulletin Sports


Key weekend for
PacWest softball teams

By Brandon Lee

The end of the Pacific West Conference softball season is still more than two weeks away, but the race for the championship is already over.

There is no PacWest tournament to decide the title at the close of this year's regular season. And with its four-game sweep of Brigham Young-Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday, Western New Mexico (27-7 overall, 18-2 conference) clinched both the conference championship and the automatic berth into the Division II West Regional that goes with it.

Each PacWest team was scheduled to play 20 conference games this year, with WNM the first one to have played all of them already. The only team that managed to beat the Mustangs was second-place Hawaii-Hilo (28-11, 11-3). The Vulcans hosted WNM on March 15 and snagged both ends of a doubleheader by 1-0 scores.

But immediately after losing their only two PacWest games of the year, the Mustangs countered with two wins over Hilo the next day, and then reeled off 12 more conference wins without a loss to close their PacWest schedule. Included in their current winning streak, Western New Mexico swept four games last weekend from traditional conference power Hawaii Pacific (18-11, 4-6), which currently finds itself in fourth place.

Still, a chance to join the Mustangs in the West Regional remains a possibility for some in the PacWest. Fifth-place Montana State-Billings (3-15, 3-13) and last-place BYUH (9-24, 2-14) are not among them.

However, Hilo, third-place Chaminade (19-17, 8-8), and HPU could still make the six-team regional field. Though WNM owns the PacWest's automatic berth and another is reserved for the champion of the California Collegiate Athletic Association, at-large bids are still up for grabs for the four other highest-ranked West Region teams when the final regional poll is released in early May.

The Vulcans, Silverswords and Sea Warriors have a big opportunity to make an impression on regional voters this weekend. They join Western New Mexico as the only teams from the PacWest at the Tournament of Champions, hosted by Cal State Stanislaus.

The tournament includes 14 other West Region teams, and play began today and runs through Sunday. With the tournament occurring just over a month before the start of regional action, and with so many West Region teams participating, it could help lock up an at-large berth or berths for the PacWest when the final vote is cast should the teams perform well.

"(The tournament) is real big for us," Chaminade coach Walter Kaaihili said. "I know all of the teams up here are regional teams, some of them at the top of the (national) polls. If we want to go anywhere in the postseason, we know we have to play well and hopefully win this tournament."

More from the diamond: The Hawaii Pacific baseball team (17-22) is also in California, with a doubleheader at Cal State Los Angeles set for tomorrow. With games against three other California teams on this 11-game road trip that will last through April 13 and close out their season, the Sea Warriors are simply trying to win a game at this point. They just completed a winless run through the University of Hawaii Rainbow Easter Tournament for the second straight year and have lost 12 of their last 13 games overall.

UH-Hilo Athletics
HPU Sports
BYUH Athletics
Chaminade Sports

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