Lopez nabs All-Big West freshman honors

UH third baseman Nicole Lopez earned three all-conference distinctions to cap her first season with the Rainbow Wahine.

The Big West announced its postseason awards on Wednesday and Lopez was named Freshman Field Player of the Year. The Mid-Pacific graduate was also named honorable mention All-Big West and earned a spot on the All-Freshman team.

Lopez solidified third base for the Wahine, starting all 54 games, and closed her freshman season as the team’s leading hitter at .287. She tied for the team lead with 23 runs batted in and finished second with five home runs. Her .292 average in Big West play was second for the team.

She put together an 11-game hitting streak until going 0-for-3 in last Saturday’s season finale at Long Beach State. Her late-season run was highlighted by a walk-off home run against Cal Poly on senior day.

UH leadoff hitter Sarah Muzik finished second on the team with a .284 batting average and joined Lopez on the All-Freshman team. Muzik started games at four positions this season — left field, center field, shortstop and second base.

Sophomore pitcher Brittany Hitchcock was named to the All-Big West second team for the second straight season. The right-hander went 13-15 overall with a 2.18 earned-run average, a mark she lowered to 1.72 in 15 Big West appearances. She finished with 103 strikeouts and leads the nation with 15 walks allowed in 177 innings.

Senior right-fielder Keiki Carlos earned conference honors for the third time in her career with a spot on the second team. Carlos hit .273 with 13 RBIs and three home runs in her final season.

Big West champion Cal State Fullerton claimed most of the major awards with honors going to Missy Taukeiaho (player of the year), Desiree Ybarra (pitcher of the year), Sydney Golden (freshman pitcher of the year) and Kelly Ford (coach of the year). Cal State Northridge catcher Karlie Habitz was the defensive player of the year.

>> The NCAA tournament opens Thursday and Friday with 11 teams on UH’s schedule in the 64-team field, including Big West representatives Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.

LBSU closed the season by winning last week’s series with UH and the 49ers, No. 37 in the NCAA RPI, earned an at-large bid, giving the Big West two-bid status for the first time since 2011.

Cal State Fullerton faces Mountain West champion and former UH rival Fresno State in the first round of the regional hosted by 12th-seeded UCLA. LBSU opens against Baylor in the regional hosted by fifth-seeded Oregon.

Cal State Fullerton ended the regular season at No. 29 in the RPI. A runner-up finish in the Big West and No. 55 ranking in the RPI wasn’t enough to send Cal State Northridge to the tournament.

For the record, UH (24-30) ended up at No. 125.

Other NCAA regional teams UH faced this season are:

Ole Miss (39-20, No. 30 RPI)
BYU (35-19, No. 51)
Oregon State (30-18, No. 24)
Wichita State (35-19, No. 48)
Utah (32-19, No. 27)
North Dakota State (38-13, No. 52)
California (31-22, No. 36)
Baylor (43-12, No. 13)
Texas (37-14, No. 28)

UH had wins over Ole Miss, Wichita State, North Dakota State, Texas and Long Beach State.