Graduation ceremonies on the University of Hawaii campus necessitated an early start to senior weekend for the Rainbow Wahine softball team.
With the the Manoa campus’ spring commencement ceremonies set for Saturday, UH’s season-ending series with Long Beach State was moved up a day from the usual Friday-Saturday window.
As such, the Rainbow Wahine (28-21, 7-11 Big West) open their three-game series with the 49ers (21-27-1, 9-9) with a single game Thursday at 6 p.m. Friday’s senior night doubleheader is set for a 4 p.m. start at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
UH’s senior class — Kanani Aina Cabrales, Ulu Matagiese and Heather Morales — will receive the traditional sendoff following Friday’s finale.
“We’re in a special world here because it’s not celebrated this way anywhere,” UH coach Bob Coolen said.
With the UH players working through final exams this week and Friday’s postgame festivities on deck, the ’Bows will attempt to win their fourth home series of the Big West season and improve their position in the league standings.
“We’re playing for pride, we’re playing to win the three-game series, but you also want to have the three seniors in,” Coolen said.
Having watched three senior nights, this year’s class enters the week well aware of the emotion awaiting after the final out on Friday. Until then, they’ll try to keep their attention on finishing strong against a conference rival.
“I think that will keep us focused but once that third game comes and it’s the last inning I think that’s when we’re going to feel the emotions most,” Morales said.
“We know its going to be tearful. We’re just preparing for it, we know it’s going to happen.”
UH has won all three of its conference series at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium by 2-1 margins, but a 1-8 finish on the road in league play took the Wahine out of Big West contention.
Long Beach State was in first place a month ago after holding Cal Poly scoreless over 28 innings in a three-game road sweep. But after an 8-2 start, the 49ers’ title hopes were swallowed up by a seven-game losing streak. LBSU broke out of the slide with a 9-0 win at UC Riverside on Sunday behind freshman Cielo Meza’s no-hitter.
The 49ers lead the all-time series 58-28 and has won all four series between the programs since UH rejoined the Big West in 2013, going 9-3 against the Wahine in that span.
Coolen said he’ll likely stick with a revamped batting order that hit .333 in the first two games of last week’s series at Cal Poly.
“It produced, it complemented each other,” Coolen said.
Sophomore Heather Cameron moved into the No. 5 spot and hit .400 last week. Freshman Chardonnay Pantastico went 3-for-9 and is hitting a team-high .353 in Big West play. Freshman Laura Jaquez started at shortstop and went 3-for-8.
Morales enters her final weekend tied with sophomore Nicole Lopez for the team’s RBI lead with 31. Lopez continues to pace UH at .333 and 12 home runs, one ahead Cal State Northridge’s Savannah Horvath for the Big West lead.
UH enters the final week of the season tied with Cal State Northridge for the Big West lead with a .286 team batting average. The Wahine are hitting. 273 in conference games, tied for first with UC Santa Barbara.
Long Beach State ranks last in the league at .237 overall and .217 in conference play.
The UH pitching staff led by Brittany Hitchcock (18-11, 1.93 ERA) ranks second in the Big West in earned-run average at .2.29 with LBSU seventh at 3.75.
Dana Thomsen (8-7, 2.47) was effective in a complete-game victory in the middle game of last week’s series.
UH was voted fifth in the Big West preseason poll and will attempt to climb closer to that projection after starting the week in seventh.
Cal State Fullerton (32-19, 15-3) ran away with the Big West title and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Titans are the only team above .500 in conference play with their closest pursuers — Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State — six games back at 9-9.
>> Seven of UH’s 11 Big West losses were decided by one run and the struggles took the ’Bows out of contention for both the NCAA tournament and the inaugural Postseason National Invitational Softball Championship.
As recently as last week, UH was listed among the teams under consideration for the new 48-team NISC, which builds a bracket with teams not selected to the NCAA tournament.
That consideration, however, was not reciprocated.
Coolen said schools are required to pay $12,000 to play in the tournament, except for Hawaii, which would be charged $30,000.
Coolen said the fee “kind of put the clamps down on us.”
“We understand it’s more expensive for us to get from here to here. I posed the question what if we (ended the regular season) on the road?’ Because we don’t want to be treated differently, we don’t want to be singled out and that something (athletic director David Matlin) and I talked about (earlier in the year).
“He goes, ‘what do you think?’ I said, don’t even bother.’ ”