Wahine recharge before Big West play

With 33 games in the books and 21 Big West games left on the schedule, Rainbow Wahine softball coach Bob Coolen set Thursday aside as a day of reflection.

The Wahine had just two days off in a grueling run of 13 games in 13 days, finishing with a doubleheader split against Columbia on Tuesday night to close the nonconference schedule. They entered a nine-day break before opening Big West play at 19-14 and Coolen planned to have the players fill out self evaluations on the season to date.

“We will go over that self evaluation to see if we’re on point or way off,” Coolen said, “because we have to make some changes.”

Tuesday’s split with Columbia was a microcosm of an undulating nonconference season. UH paired power with a brilliant pitching performance in a 5-1 win in the first game, but consistency remained elusive and the Wahine dropped the second game 7-6.

The Wahine were scuffling at 9-8 after a run-rule loss to California on Feb. 26, then won eight of their next nine powered by 15 home runs in that stretch. They then went without a long ball in four consecutive losses and managed to take two of three against Columbia. They pulled out a win in extra innings on Sunday, overpowered the Lions at the plate and in the circle in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader then had a late surge come up short in the finale.

“I told them this is a three-game series indicative of how it’s going to be in the Big West,” Coolen said. “They’re going to keep coming at you.”

The Wahine will have spring break to prepare for the Big West opener against UC Riverside, which owns the best record in the Big West at 23-7, on March 27 at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. UCR junior Chelsea Ponce ranks second in the nation with 16 wins and leads the Big West with a 1.28 earned-run average.

UH sophomore Kanani Aina Cabrales set a season high with 13 strikeouts in Tuesday’s first game against Columbia but took the loss in the second game and will enter Big West play at 9-9 with a 3.01 ERA. Brittany Hitchcock ended the nonconference schedule at 9-5 with a 2.56 ERA.

Sophmores top the hitting chart with Heather Morales moving into the team lead at .356, followed by shortstop Sarina Jaramillo, who has thrived in the third spot in the order recently to raise her average to .340.

As a team, UH leads the Big West in scoring and in home runs with 35 but is seventh in hitting at .263. Senior Kayla Wartner leads UH with eight homers followed by Leisha Li’ili’i with six. Li’ili’i hit her 44th career homer in the seventh inning against Columbia on Tuesday, tying her with Kate Robinson for third on UH’s career list and trailing only Kelly Majam (72) and Jessica Iwata (55).

Coolen utilized the flex position to give Aina Cabrales ome at-bats on Tuesday and her first UH hit was a home run to center field. Keiki Carlos homered in the eighth inning of the second game to bring UH to within a run before the rally fell short.

“We’ll put it on film and let the kids see … what they did well,” Coolen said. “How did Keiki hit that home run at the end? That was full extension and proper linear movement. … Same thing with Leisha. Used her legs, rotated and got extension and, boom, hits a line drive and I’m like is it going to get high enough to get over the fence.”

Coolen said the team will get back in the weight room during the break while recharging for the conference season. Coolen said the wear of the three-week stretch was evident toward the end and felt some players were pressing.

“Next year I have to reflect on that,” Coolen said of the scheduling. “I have to decide do we play the max amount or do we not play the max amount and space it out a little bit and take some days off and not let this happen again. We have to be fresher.”