This season marks nine years since Hawaii’s landmark run to the Women’s College World Series and the ripples of that remarkable spring continue to wash ashore for the Rainbow Wahine.
Izzy Dino and Mikaela Gandia-Mak were still in elementary school when they followed UH’s march to Oklahoma City and thrilled in the win over top-seeded Alabama.
“I remember watching them in 2010 in the world series,” said Gandia-Mak, who was 10 at the time. “It made a huge imprint.”
Last weekend, the UH freshmen delivered impressive performances in their collegiate debuts.
Gandia-Mak started in right field in her first weekend in a UH uniform and hit .500 over five games in the Hawaii Paradise Classic to earn the inaugural Big West freshman of the week award on Monday.
Dino took a no-decision in her first collegiate start in the circle against Texas-Arlington last Friday. In her second appearance, she threw UH’s first no-hitter since 2012 in a six-inning win over Saint Mary’s.
“It’s hard to believe I actually did that, but I think it sets a new standard now in how I go out there and the hard work doesn’t stop,” Dino said. “I think mentally that’s where I have to be and I just keep pushing myself to get better.”
Dino’s first collegiate victory will likely stick in her memory much like the day she committed to join the UH program, July 22, 2017 — a date she can recite with the same ease as her birthday.
A little more than seven years prior to becoming UH coach Bob Coolen’s first Canadian recruit, Dino said she “didn’t know what college softball was and Hawaii was one of the first teams I ever watched.”
“I watched the legendary game where Hawaii walked off to go to the Women’s College World Series against Alabama and I remember thinking that was so cool. And my dad was like, ‘hey maybe you’ll play for them one day.’ And I was like, ‘yeah maybe, haha.’ It’s crazy to think it’s actually happening.”
In her debut in a UH uniform, Dino pitched into the sixth inning and was charged with four runs on eight hits against Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks rallied to take the lead in the seventh only to see UH answer with Brittnee Rossi’s two-run double in the bottom of the inning, giving freshman Ashley Murphy the win in relief.
Dino got the ball again against Saint Mary’s and her kept the infield busy with 13 groundball outs to go along with five strikeouts. The offense brought the eight-run rule into effect in the sixth inning, giving Dino UH’s first no-no since Stephanie Ricketts’ senior-day gem in 2012. She walked two and worked around two errors while finishing the game with 66 pitches.
“I knew around the third inning I hadn’t really given up any hits, but I didn’t want to jinx it,” she said.
“So I had to try really hard not think about it the entire game. … So (the mercy rule) was a great way celebrate.”
Gandia-Mak, who committed to UH prior to her sophomore year at San Clemente (Calif.) High School, was the only freshman in the lineup for last Thursday’s opener against Georgia State and reached on an infield single in her first UH plate appearance. She promptly swiped her first stolen base and later scored the final run in an 8-0 mercy-rule win.
“I just thought it was a huge honor,” Gandia-Mak said of getting the start, “because I’ve been dreaming about that moment since I was a little kid and now I’m actually here in college playing for a D-I school playing a sport that I love.
“I just got more confident and I had my teammates behind me encouraging me so it helped a lot.”
She helped complement Dino’s performance against Saint Mary’s by going 3-for-3, driving in two runs and scoring two more. In the tournament finale against Fresno State, Gandia-Mak contributed an RBI single in UH’s five-run first inning and closed the weekend 6-for-12 at the plate.
The Bulldogs rallied to tie the game in the fifth, but Callee Heen launched a go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the inning. Reliever Emily Klee managed to hold off a Fresno State rally in the seventh, stranding the tying run on third with a game-ending strikeout to seal a 7-6 win.
“It gives me more confidence and makes me believe in this team even more,” Gandia-Mak said of the dramatic finishes against UT Arlington and Fresno State, “the fact that we fight for each other and that we can count on each other to help each other out when we’re in tough situations like that.”
The Rainbow Wahine (4-1) were set to depart on Tuesday for Las Vegas and open play in the Boyd Gaming Rebel Classic on Thursday against BYU. They will face Fordham and UTEP on Friday and Weber State and Seattle on Saturday.