In his meticulous penmanship, Hawaii softball coach Bob Coolen has written Brittany Hitchcock’s name on the bottom line of his lineup card for each of the last four Rainbow Wahine season openers.
With Hitchcock back for a sixth year with the program, Coolen will likely make it five straight opening-night starts for the right-hander on Thursday when UH takes on Georgia State at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Hitchcock’s first run at a senior season ended with surgery to treat a herniated disc in her back, the same injury that forced her to sit out her first year at UH. She was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and her recovery from last April’s procedure gave her a chance to reflect on a now lengthy college career while working toward a second chance at a farewell season.
“It’s crazy thinking about the people who were seniors my original freshman year and how long they’ve been out of college and the scope of all the different people I’ve gotten to play with here,” Hitchcock said. “It’s definitely been a long journey, but I feel like it’s all meant for something and looking forward to the way it finishes out.”
After redshirting in 2014, Hitchcock made her first collegiate start on Feb. 5, 2015 in a 3-0 complete-game win over Saint Mary’s. Leisha Li’ili’i went 2-for-3 that night and Lindsey Willmon, Hitchcock’s travel ball teammate, provided the scoring with a three-run homer.
Hitchcock’s next start will be the 98th of her career and 109th appearance in a UH uniform. She enters the season with a career record of 55-28 and a 2.10 earned-run average and her next strikeout will be No. 400.
“I have a lot of confidence in my teammates,” Hitchcock said of making yet another opening-night start. “I don’t feel I have to put it all on my back or anything like that. Knowing I have a solid defense and offense behind me is helpful. I’m looking forward to being out there and just being able to enjoy the moment.”
The lineup Coolen will send behind Hitchcock on Thursday figures to include four returnees in new positions.
Callee Heen, UH’s leading hitter last season (.333, 14 home runs), moves from catcher to first base, a position vacated when Rachael Turner graduated last spring. Cheeks Ramos, a two-year starter at shortstop, moves over to second base and sophomore Brittnee Rossi takes over in center field after starting most of last year in left.
Sissy Pantastico, who spent much of her first two years in right field, started at shortstop in Saturday’s alumnae game. All-Big West third baseman Nicole Lopez remains entrenched in the middle of the lineup having started all 156 games in her UH career.
Danielle Garcielita owned center field and the leadoff spot the last two years. Left fielder Tatumn Satow, who sat out last year after transferring from Cal, had moved into the top spot in the order before rolling her ankle on Saturday.
If Satow is healthy, Rossi is likely to hit second in the order followed by Lopez, Heen and Ramos, whom Coolen noted as one of UH’s hottest hitters in preseason scrimmages.
“I’m trying to find out if we can put together a lineup that is contagious hitting-wise,” Coolen said on Monday.
With Heen moving to first, senior Heather Cameron figures to handle much of the catching duties with 98 starts behind the plate over the last three seasons.
Like Hitchcock, right fielder Bree Soma’s appeal to get a year back was granted by the NCAA in the offseason. The Maryknoll graduate returns as a sophomore after having her first two years cut short by injuries.
UH could have one of the tallest rotations in the Big West with the 5-foot-11 Hitchcock complemented by 6-foot-2 right hander Izzy Dino. Dino and fellow freshman pitcher Ashley Murphy were in the eighth grade when Hitchcock first enrolled at UH. Sophomores Dominique Martinez and Emily Klee return after seeing spot duty last year behind Dana Thomsen, who threw a Big West-leading 197.1 innings as a senior with Hitchcock sidelined.
The season opens with the three-day Paradise Classic. The tournament features five games per day starting at 9 a.m. with UH playing a single game against Georgia State on Thursday and a doubleheader with UT-Arlington and No. 1/2 UCLA on Friday and another twinbill against Saint Mary’s and Fresno State on Saturday. OC Sports will televise Friday’s doubleheader and 1420-AM will broadcast the UH-UCLA game.
UT Arlington is coached by former UH player Peejay Brun (1990-92, ’94), a member of UH’s first NCAA tournament team in 1994 and teammate of UH associate head coach Dee Wisneski. One of Brun’s assistants is former Alabama standout Charlotte Morgan. Morgan’s final collegiate game ended with UH celebrating Jenna Rodriguez‘s walk-off homer in the 2010 NCAA Super Regional. Morgan homered for the Crimson Tide’s first run of that game.
Paradise Classic schedule
UCLA vs. UT Arlington, 9 a.m.
Fresno State vs. UCLA, 11:30 a.m.
UT Arlington vs. Fresno State, 2 p.m.
Georgia State vs. St. Mary’s, 4:30 p.m.
Georgia State vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m.
Fresno State vs. St. Mary’s, 9 a.m.
Georgia State vs. Fresno State, 11:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s vs. UT Arlington, 2 p.m.
UT Arlington vs. Hawaii, 4:30 p.m.
UCLA vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m.
UT Arlington vs. Georgia State, 9 a.m.
UCLA vs. Georgia State, 11:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s vs. UCLA, 1 p.m.
St. Mary’s vs. Hawaii, 3 p.m.
Fresno State vs. Hawaii, 5 p.m.