Frenso State series key
to postseason hopes

Just another series? Not quite.

With the Hawaii softball team fighting to keep its postseason hopes alive and rival Fresno State coming to town, Bob Coolen certainly isn't playing down the importance of this weekend's series against the nationally ranked Bulldogs.

Fresno State at Hawaii

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.; Saturday doubleheader, 2 p.m.

Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium

Admission: Free

Promotion: The first 100 youth league softball players (ages 13 and under) wearing their team's jersey will receive a free ticket to one of the UH baseball team's games against Rice, April 15-17.

"Everyone in the program knows that Fresno is our biggest series in the WAC," the Rainbow Wahine coach said. "Everything else is competitive, but not as hyped as the Fresno series."

The Wahine open a three-game Western Athletic Conference series against No. 18 Fresno State with a single game tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. The teams then play a doubleheader at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Hawaii (20-17) is 1-2 in WAC play after dropping a home series against Nevada earlier this month and has little margin for error heading into the remainder of the WAC schedule.

Coolen estimates the Wahine will need to go 10-5 the rest of the season to put themselves in position for a postseason invite.

"This is the home stretch for us. ... If we believe it, we can make a run. But the tone will be set on Friday night," Coolen said.

"Anything better than (10-5) and we'll have a chance. Anything less and we'll be in trouble."

Fresno State (21-8) leads the all-time series with UH 47-9 and opens defense of its WAC crown led by three-time All-America pitcher Jaime Southern.

Southern, a senior right-hander, enters the series at 11-2 with a 0.72 earned-run average. She's rung up 120 strikeouts in 87 innings and has held opponents to a .146 batting average.

At 101-31 in her career, Southern is closing in on the WAC record for career wins of 106 held by former Bulldog pitcher Amanda Scott.

Coolen expects to see Southern in all three games this weekend, making it tough for the Wahine to improve on their .268 team batting average. But UH will try to put some pressure on her led by sophomore first baseman Tyleen Tausaga, the WAC's leading hitter at .412.

"We just need to go out and swing the bat," Coolen said. "(Southern's) around the plate, she's not a pitcher that fools around. She has a game plan, she throws hard, has a great changeup, has a lot of poise and presence on the mound. She's the epitome of what you look for in a pitcher."

Southern also hurts opponents at the plate, hitting .363 with eight home runs and a team-high 24 RBIs. Catcher Nichole Willis leads Fresno State at .375, while shortstop Christina Clark is hitting .372 and is tied with Southern with eight homers.

Coolen will hand the ball to senior Melissa Coogan (9-7, 1.90 ERA) for tomorrow night's game. The rest of the pitching assignments will depend on how Coogan fares in the opener.

Junior Paula Blanning has beaten Fresno State twice in the past two seasons, while freshman Kate Robinson and senior Shannon Tabion may also figure in the rotation.

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