Hawaii softball: 7 seniors get a surprise in final game

Hawaii softball seniors Jenna Kumabe, Alyssa Sojka, Nicole Lopez, Heather Cameron, Jennifer Iseri, Carly Pina and Brittany Hitchcock. / Photo courtesy Andrew Lee

Bob Coolen figured the time for some lineup trickery was at hand.

In his 28 years as Hawaii softball coach, only a handful of times has he had as large a senior class as the seven of 2019. And in those past instances, there’d typically be some kind of conference positioning or overall win-loss consideration that superseded a luxury such as starting every member of a large crop of seniors on senior night.

Not this year.

This time, UH knew it was locked into second place in the Big West, and that the season was over regardless of what happened in Friday night’s season finale at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium against UC Davis. (The third-place Aggies prevailed 5-1 behind a one-hitter from ace Brooke Yanez.)

Coolen is fond of this class, as not only did it help him win his 1,000th game in Manoa this season, but the group represented a return to form (33-16, 14-7 Big West) for a program that enjoyed some of its finest seasons just a handful of years ago but had faltered in the last few.

He decided the seven — three regular starters and four reserves — needed to be messed with on their big night, just a little. He thought about how to do it all day Friday.

“I did post — I don’t know if they told you — prior to the game, a whole different lineup,” Coolen said. “Two seniors in the lineup, and they were so salty. They were so angry. My assistants were like, ‘oh my God, they’re just fuming.’ ”

He told platoon catcher Heather Cameron to start warming up ace Brittany Hitchcock pregame, with the team believing junior Callee Heen would be behind the plate for the real action. But Heen tweaked something in Thursday’s doubleheader split with the Aggies (19 total innings) and Coolen had no intention of playing her.

When the team came out for pregame introductions, he swapped the lineup card in the dugout. All seven seniors were on this one, though he had to get a little creative with players out of their usual spots. It was Hitchcock at pitcher, Cameron at catcher, Alyssa Sojka at first, Jenna Kumabe at second, Carly Pina at third, Nicole Lopez at shortstop and Jennifer Iseri in left field. Brittnee Rossi (who had a solo shot off Yanez in the sixth for UH’s only hit) in center field and Sissy Pantastico in right were the only underclassmen, along with Cheeks Ramos at designated player.

Hitchcock and Heen were in on the ruse, but that was it.

“When they didn’t announce Jen Iseri (as a reserve) first, they’re like, ‘wait a minute,’ ” Coolen said of everyone else.

The team hustled back over to the board to inspect the lineup again.


“We loved it. We didn’t think we were gonna (all start),” Cameron said. “He tricked us. And they called out the names, and it was just awesome looking out and seeing everyone that I love and everyone that’s in my grade, one last ride, it was so amazing.”

The coach had to shuffle players around the infield after a couple innings when UH trailed 1-0 and it was clear the defense wasn’t quite up to snuff, but he expected to have to do it.

“I knew I was going to go back to a stronger infield, because I didn’t want the game to get too out of hand,” Coolen said.

He offered congratulations to Yanez and the Aggies, who finished at 39 wins for one of their finest seasons. Yanez (25-7) struck out 14 with one walk and one hit batsman. Maddie Rojas cranked a towering grand slam in the fourth off of Hitchcock to break the game open, and nearly put another one out in the top of the fifth had Iseri not reached over the wall in left.

“She does not like losing. She was bringing it,” Coolen said of Yanez, who lost a 12-inning epic duel with Hitchcock in the series opener. “I lost (her) strikeout count after one (inning). I knew she was on fire.”

Kumabe, Cameron, Pina and Iseri struck out at the hands of Yanez in all 10 of those seniors’ combined at-bats. No matter on this night.


Hitchcock (20-8) went the distance with a seven-hitter. The sixth-year player, known as the “grandma of the staff,” finished her final year with a 1.76 ERA. Lopez went 0-for-2 with a walk, batting .353 as a senior. Solkja (0-for-2, hit by pitch) finished at .262.

“This game meant a lot to Brittany and the other kids, but it meant more that the other seniors were in there with them,” Coolen said. “So that was good. It’s one out of 28 years I can do that.” He chuckled.

COMMENTS

  1. tommui May 11, 2019 10:51 am

    The field SHOULD be named BOB COOLEN FIELD.


  2. Kazu May 11, 2019 12:14 pm

    Wish all the Sr. Athletes in all sports who are graduating today well, and best of luck in the future. Everyone will be going their own ways,but hopefully some will choose to remain in Hawaii.
    Thank you all.


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